No more plastic surgery complaintsSimmering consumer disputes and complaints by Chinese who flew to Korea for a plastic makeover could build up to a diplomatic problem. According to findings by a member of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, the Korean embassy in China has sent public letters to the health ministry almost every month this year, warning that the bilateral relationship could be at risk if news reports continue to portray Korea as hotspot for plastic surgery mistakes. An estimated 79,481 Chinese travelled to Korea as medical tourists - mostly visiting plastic surgery hospitals - last year.
Safety concerns have been highlighted amid reports of death and disfigurement among foreign patients that used Korean cosmetic surgeons. Complaints ranging from unqualified doctors to overpricing by intermediary or illicit agents have tainted the image of the local medical industry.
More than 2,000 unregistered brokers are estimated to be active all over the country. In return for drawing customers and arranging surgeries, they overcharge to take more in commission fees and push doctors for risky surgeries.
Under current laws, agents recruiting patients from overseas must register with the health ministry and have damage insurance coverage. Illicit brokers mostly benefit from the boom in the Korean plastic industry by pocketing 30 percent to 90 percent of the cost as their fees for the illegal service. Law enforcement authorities must join hands with Chinese counterparts to crack down on these illicit agents to restore the image of the local medical industry.
Health authorities also must strengthen consumer rights. Patients regardless of their nationality must be able to report complaints and seek compensation for any damage.
However, the bills to promote medical tourism have been pending in the legislature for a year now. These bills and regulations are designed to use Korea’s skilled doctors and exceptional medical facilities as a new growth engine for the country.
According to the health ministry, over 630,000 foreign nationals have used local medical facilities over the last five years, generating 1 trillion won ($859 million) in revenue - tantamount to the sale of 95,000 small sedans. If 1.5 million patients can be attracted by 2017, 28,000 jobs can be newly created for young people.
The legislature and government must take necessary steps to restore the reputation of the Korean medical industry.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 6, Page 30