Foreign hospitals one step closer

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Foreign hospitals one step closer

Korea is moving closer to establishing international hospitals at a free economic zone in Songdo, Incheon, with related laws to be revised this summer, the government said.

At a cabinet meeting yesterday, policymakers decided to produce detailed guidelines on how to set up such operations in an attempt to draw more attention from overseas. Foreign investors have been awaiting the very news for the last 10 years.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, foreign hospitals that plan on entering the Korean market will be required to have at least 10 percent of their doctors carry a foreign medical license.

In addition, the medical facilities must have at least 5 billion won ($4.4 million) in funding when they are set up.

The health ministry said it will lay out the full guidelines and finalize the legislation by June.

As of now, a lack of legislation in this area has deterred many potential investors from coming into the Korean market despite the government?promoting the idea of international hospitals in 2002. A number of interested foreign parties have reported problems in setting up shop here or have withdrawn their plans.

Songdo International Hospital is expected to become the first to begin operating in the country in 2016. It will be a cooperative venture between Seoul National University Hospital and Johns Hopkins Medicine International.

“After that, we might see another international hospital built in Songdo,” said Lee Jong-seok, director of the Free Economic Zone planning office, which is affiliated to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. Lee said the zone needs to improve its basic social infrastructure to draw more of direct foreign investment.

“Ultimately, we need to raise the quality of the social infrastructure because, foreigners will only visit the country when the living conditions here meet their standards,” he said.

Lee also expects Korea to take a larger share in the global medical tourism industry, which he projects will hit 120 trillion won ($105 billion) this year.

“Thailand and Singapore each attract around one million medical tourists a year, whereas we get 100,000,” he said. “Better medical facilities will help us grow this tourism segment.”

The proximity of Songdo to Incheon International Airport is likely to play a key role in attracting patients, while the new hospitals will create jobs and boost the economy, said Lee Chang-joon, director of the health ministry’s health care policy division.

“Although there is a minimum quota for practicing doctors, most of the medical assistants will be Koreans,” Lee said.

The knowledge ministry is also preparing to minimize the negative side effects implied by the arrival of foreign hospitals with a number of protectionist measures. For example, it will limit the number of sickbeds if too much competition arises with local medical facilities, it said.

“But the demography of the patients that will be targeted by the international hospitals is very different from those targeted by local hospitals, so we don’t think there will be many clashes,” said Lee of the knowledge ministry.



By Lee Sun-min [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]

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