Hospital a new growth engineSeoul National University Hospital made a breakthrough in medical exports by winning a contract from the United Arab Emirates to run the Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital for the next five years. Under the deal, the Korean state-funded hospital will be in charge of operating the hospital, from medical technology to practitioners to electronic information systems. From its opening in 2015, the hospital will receive about 1 trillion won ($987 million) from the state to run the new 248-bed hospital. About 20 percent of the staff of 1,420 will be recruited from Korea, helping to generate both revenue and jobs for Koreans.
Lately, the government has been promoting medical tourism, hoping to help both the health care and tourism industries by drawing patients from overseas. But the latest feat shows that Korean medical and technology resources have reached advanced levels that can be easily sold overseas. Health care is in high demand in the Middle East due to a sharp increase in population, adult-related diseases from a Westernized lifestyle and an interest in welfare. Because the Korean brand and people are well received in the Middle East due to decades of rapport and business relations, the domestic medical industry could find a new source of revenue in the region. Saudi Arabia has also previously invested in medical management knowledge from a Korean hospital.
Hospital jobs are not the only opportunities in the Middle East. Medical, dentist and nursing schools are recruiting foreigners for teaching positions. Medical universities, especially with umbrella hospitals, should look into exporting a package deal of teaching, managing and hospital staffing. The region opens up a new value-added export opportunity that would involve design, operations and financing in the medical field. The medical industry could be the next overseas construction boom like the one that helped the Korean economy rise in the 1970s and 1980s.
The government should join with the medical and education sectors to come up with a long-term outline to globalize the Korean medical field. The latest project was won by building friendship and trust with UAE officials through frequent government-level and presidential visits. The government should continue its efforts in commercial diplomacy and trade through aid and cultural programs.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 11, Page 30