Our new medical touristsSeoul National University Hospital received its first patient from Abu Dhabi, the capital and the largest of the seven-member emirates of the United Arab Emirates. The Health Administration of Abu Dhabi signed contracts with Samsung Seoul Hospital, SNU Hospital, Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital and Asan Medical Center in Seoul last month.
Under the patient-exchange contract, a 28-year-old patient with vocal chord disorder was sent to Seoul. It is the first time a foreign government sent a patient to a local hospital and attests to the credibility of Korean medical skills and technology.
Middle Eastern countries boast world-class medical facilities financed by petro dollars, but the quality of treatment and the proficiency of their doctors has been lagging. They send critically ill patients or people with rare illnesses abroad for treatment. Every year, the UAE spends more than 2 trillion won ($1.75 billion) to subsidize their people’s overseas hospital care, or 120 million won per person.
Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand have been trying to attract patients from the Middle East. Korean doctors, despite their skills, joined the competition relatively late due to legal problems. The first patient from Abu Dhabi could be a small but valuable beginning to our medical industry.
There is talk that the Abu Dhabi government is considering sending a patient to Seoul for a kidney transplant. Another member of the UAE, Dubai, has also sent a patient for treatment at Asan Medical Center and plans to sign a contract with the hospital next month.
To prepare for more patients from the Middle East, hospitals should create a comfortable environment for Muslim patients. Interpreters and Islamic food should be readied.
Hospitals must make sure they don’t use any drugs derived from pigs. Since prayers are an important part of everyday life for Muslims, mosques or worship rooms should be set up. Customer-friendly environments combined with excellent skills will enhance the country’s reputation in the medical field.
Korean hospitals treated 110,000 foreign patients this year, including 5,000 at Severance Hospital of Yonsei University. Medical care could be one of our future industries after regulations are eased and service is upgraded.