If You Fall Ill, Help Is Easily Found

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If You Fall Ill, Help Is Easily Found

One of the last things you want to do when you are in a foreign country where you do not speak the language is to get sick. However, the general standard of medicine in Korea is on a par with that in the West and once the language barrier is overcome, one should not have problems finding good medical services in Korea.

The first hurdle in getting medical attention is to find a doctor who speaks your language. Addressing this problem is International SOS Korea which operates a medical referral service for its members, directing them to its network of contracted U.S.-trained doctors. Doctors in the network speak English, French, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish. The company will make appointments with the doctor of choice as well as guaranteeing payment where necessary.

Evacuation and repatriation is a specialized service offered by the company. "Short-term visitors to Korea who need medical care often opt to return to their home country after receiving emergency care and we provide an escort service in those instances," said Lee Chang-hun, business development manager at International SOS Korea.

Foreigners' Community Service (02-798-7529) is a non-profit organization that connects its members to a university hospital. The service is run by a team of four or five volunteer nurses trained overseas. "There is always a medic on duty to answer the phone," said Renate Pflugei, an officer at FOCUS. The service is available in English only.

If you would rather take the plunge yourself, the best thing to do is to go to one of the clinics for foreigners run by large university hospitals. Patients are seen by appointment, so call ahead of time.

Severance Hospital International Health Care Center (02-361-6540)

The international clinic operated by Severance Hospital, Yonsei University Medical Center, is located in Sinchon. Two full-time doctors staffing the clinic were trained both in Korea and in the United States and speak both English and Korean. The clinic has a special ward for foreign patients, although they may also choose to stay in Severance Hospital's regular wards.

The clinic boasts a one-stop service and 80 percent of outpatients are provided with sub-specialists on the same visit.

The clinic accepts the National Healthcare Insurance and charges non-insured rates for foreign patients without National Healthcare Insurance coverage. However, for foreign patients who cannot afford the medical fees, the center is flexible and can come up with creative means of payment, according to the center's director, Dr. John Linton, who is board certified in family medicine both in Korea and the United States.

International Health Service, Samsung Medical Center (02-3410-0200)

Opened in Irwon-dong in 1995, this health service for expatriates as well as foreign travelers has two full-time doctors on staff and eight nurses. The center can direct the patient to one of the 30 U.S.-trained doctors on the staff at the Samsung Medical Center. The center has seven inpatient rooms and an around-the-clock bilingual nursing staff as well. Services are available in English, French and Japanese.

International Clinic, Asan Medical Center (02-2224-5001)

Located in Pungnap-dong, the clinic is staffed by an English-speaking doctor and nurse. Patients get one-on-one service, with someone to accompany the patients to tests or to see specialists.

Patients have access to all the specialists at the hospital and the clinic can also arrange for surgery, including sophisticated procedures such as kidney and liver transplants for which the hospital is well respected. The clinic accepts National Health Insurance carried by foreign workers living in Korea.

International Clinic, CHA Medical Center (02-3468-3128)

Operated by the CHA Medical Center, Yeoksam-dong, the clinic is staffed by two OB-GYN specialists. In addition to routine OB-GYN care, the clinic also delivers babies and the patients have access to pediatrics specialists at the hospital.

Although the quality of medical services in Korea is generally good, do not expect to receive the same type of patient-centered care at Korean hospitals that you would receive in other countries. "The doctors here see five to ten times more patients than their counterparts in the United States," explained Dr. Linton.

A new issue for foreign patients that has cropped up with the new prescription system that bans hospitals from dispensing medication to outpatients is getting directions for taking their medication. Patients often cannot get instructions on how to take their medication from pharmacists, who generally do not speak fluent English. Patients need to make sure they get proper instructions from the doctors in order to avoid potentially dangerous mistakes, Dr. Linton advised.

Illegal migrant workers without National Health Insurance coverage who in the past were often denied access to medical services now have a number of services available. Medical Mutual Aid Union for Migrant Workers in Korea (02-779-0326) connects its monthly dues-paying members to one of the 280 hospitals and clinics in its network that offer discounts to migrant workers. The initial membership fee is 5,000 won ($4) and members pay monthly dues of 5,000 won to maintain membership. After three months as a member, the member can get 50 percent of medical fees reimbursed after visiting a general hospital.

"Of the 300,000 or so foreign workers in Korea, it is estimated that approximately 180,000 are illegal migrant workers who are not eligible for National Health Insurance," said Kim Mi-sun, an official at the Medical Mutual Aid Union. The union currently has 3,600 members.

Good Neighbor Clinic (02-2274-0161) is a free medical service for migrant workers run by volunteers. The free clinic operates every first and third Sunday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Kyung Dong Church, Jangchung-dong. It is run on a first come, first served basis, so patients need to be at the main gate of the church by 1:30 p.m. The clinic, which also includes dental care, is run by a volunteer staff of 30, including seven doctors.

For those visitors in Korea staying at hotels, most five-star hotels have a nurse on duty during regular working hours who can provide first aid and refer the guests to doctors or hospitals. Guests can also find English-speaking doctors who make house calls. However, expect to pay for this service. At the Hotel Shilla, Seoul, for instance, the doctor will charge 300,000 won for the house call service on top of the regular medical service fee.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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