Lackluster ‘tourist’ hospitalsThere were 55,324 foreigners who came to Korea for medical care last year, up 32 percent from 2008. However, medical services in Korea must tackle the myriad of challenges these travelers experience to become globally competitive. Many Korean hospitals show poor performance in resolving medical disputes or dealing with complaints from an institutional perspective. In fact, no compensation is provided to resolve medical center disputes or complaints.
Hospitals treat patients from different foreign countries, and every country has a different legal system. Therefore, if no agreement is reached regarding exclusive jurisdiction over medical dispute cases or compensation systems, it is likely to create diplomatic problems. Of course, it can also lead directly to a loss of national prestige.
Our social institutions for attracting overseas patients are also slack. The number of medical institutions registered with the Korea Health Industry Development Institute as treating overseas patients is now 1,430 nationwide, with 93 institutions explicitly attracting overseas patients. However, it is rare for them to carry liability coverage in case of an accident or to hire interpreters to facilitate communication while examining a patient. Currently any medical institution capitalized at 100 million won ($87,800) with surety insurance can easily earn a license. Amendments to the current regulations and guidance and supervision for institutions already registered are necessary.
The government included the attraction of overseas patients in its 17 industrial sectors designated as new engines for economic growth. Attracting 10,000 foreign patients would result in increased production worth 70 billion won and would create some 830 jobs. For an example of the economic power of medical tourism, the region of Sopron in Hungary has focused on the industry, employing some 5,000 doctors at 500 dental hospitals.
It is urgent we lay an institutional foundation for expanding the scope of medical tourism and devise measures to facilitate it. Above all, the government should endeavor to establish a state-of-the-art institutional system for securing patients’ rights and providing compensation. The mediation and appraisal of medical disputes should be supplemented in the direction of proactively protecting patients. It is an integral part of efforts to boost the number of visitors coming for medical purposes. Hospitals should also allow for implementation of a telemedicine program and build an effective global competitiveness plan by expanding the scope of incidental projects that can be connected to medical tourism. There is no need to lead a cat-and-dog life in a narrow domestic market.