[NOTEBOOK]Our Hospitals Need Surgery

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[NOTEBOOK]Our Hospitals Need Surgery

A month ago, a young Korean immigrant came from Canada to promote his company. The business he owns is extraordinary. It transports Korean patients to foreign medical institutions to receive lower-priced treatment.

When I visited famous hospitals on the U.S. East Coast, such as Johns Hopkins and Mount Sinai, I was surprised to find Korean interpreters in the hospitals. Some hospitals even fetch Korean patients at the airport.

Could this business of taking Korean patients to American hospitals be profitable? A Gallup Korea survey of higher income families suggested that it could.

Among these families, 36 percent expressed dissatisfaction at hospital treatment in Korea and 77 percent were worried about incorrect diagnoses. Moreover, 81 percent said they would seek a diagnosis from American institutions and 68 percent wanted medical treatment there. Every year around 10,000 patients go overseas for medical treatment, spending 1 trillion won ($764 million). Korean patients make a large financial contribution to foreign hospitals.

Domestic laws effectively prohibit foreign medical institutions from opening hospitals in Korea. Korean law does not allow the establishment of for-profit foreign hospitals or recognize foreign licenses for medical doctors. Most workers in the Korean medical industry are not worried about an increasingly competitive medical market because these laws work as a protective shell.

But is opening a hospital the only way for foreign institutions to enter the Korean market? What about selling medical products or programs?

MGH hospital, which belongs to Harvard University's medical school, and Johns Hopkins Hospital have set up multinational companies to sell medical products. MD Anderson Hospital, which specializes in cancer treatment, also commercialized its cancer diagnosis program.

Last year, a book called "Sinking Hospitals" caused a sensation in Japan, which has a similar medical system to Korea.

In the preface, the writer deplored medical practitioners for "being asleep" despite the onslaught of foreign medical institutions armed with financial power. The writer said 1,500 American pioneering medical management consultants were launching various types of medical business in Japan. The consultants are eyeing the 30 trillion yen per year that Japanese spend on medical services and products.

These American medical products survived fierce competition at home. Their strength lie in the patient-oriented service they provide, highly developed medical technologies and reasonable cost.

Where would our medical institutions rank in competitiveness in the world industry? Our hospital-oriented medical service does not reflect patient demands or changes and is on the verge of crisis. Medical laws are contributing to lowering the competitiveness of hospitals.

The government will announce plans to stabilize the finances of medical insurance. I hope these plans include ways to improve the competitiveness of domestic medical institutions.

by Ko Jong-kwan

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