Arab patients in Korea may enjoy better medical care

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Arab patients in Korea may enjoy better medical care

In responding to the growing demand for medical services in Korea by patients from the Middle East, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced Tuesday that it is planning to provide on-demand Arabic interpretation services and more varied Halal food in hospitals, as well as assistance with visa matters and even prayer rooms in medical facilities.

“Related government departments and public institutes should join to promote overseas medical services and attract foreign patients,” said Health Minister Chung Chin-youb.

According to the Health Ministry, the accumulated number of foreign patients from 2009 to 2014 hit 901,470, with an average yearly increase of 34.7 percent. The number of patients from the United Arab Emirates grew from 17 in 2009 to 2,633 in 2014.

Ever since the Health Ministry signed an agreement with the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi in 2011, patients initially sponsored by the UAE government, and later even those not sponsored, have increasingly sought medical services in Korea.

Currently, the Arabic language training program at Korea Human Resource Development Institute for Health and Welfare (KOHI) is open to only 15 people per year. The KOHI plans to provide an additional 200-hour language training program this year, and extend services to match Arabic interpreters with medical organizations. Also, in addition to employing more nutritionists specializing in Halal food at hospitals, the ministry intends to develop 35 Halal menus.

The ministry is scheduled to host a ministry-wide meeting on Wednesday with other governmental organizations, including the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to discuss policies on overseas medical expansion and ways to attract foreign patients. They will be joined by public institutes like the Korea Tourism Organization and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, as well as medical organizations such as the Korea International Medical Association.

In addition to discussing the International Medical Business Support Act, to be enacted in June, the meeting will seek ways to promote a positive image for Korea’s medical services abroad, crackdown on brokers who connect foreign patients with clinics for inflated fees and improve non-medical services for Middle Eastern patients, whose numbers will likely increase after the lifting of sanctions on Iran.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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