June 25, 2024
Korea aims to attract more foreign patients through expanded medical service exports
Korea aims to attract more foreign patients through expanded medical service exports

The number of foreign patients visiting South Korea for medical tourism hit a record high last year, driven by those who traveled to Korea for skin care and plastic surgery.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said on Monday the number of foreigners who visited Korea for medical purposes reached an all-time high of 605,768 in 2023 – a 144.2% increase from 248,000 in 2022.

Last year’s figures represent the highest since 2009 when domestic medical institutions were allowed to attract foreign patients and a 21.8% increase from the pre-pandemic high of 497,000 in 2019.

Foreign patients refer to non-resident foreign nationals who are not covered by Korea’s national health insurance program.

The ministry, which has been promoting a strategy to attract foreign medical tourists to the country since last May, attributed last year’s decent growth to Korea’s advanced medical technology and services.

The number of foreign medical tourists in Korea by year from 2009-2023 (Courtesy of Ministry of Health and Welfare)

SKINCARE, PLASTIC SURGERY MOST POPULAR

More than half of the foreign patients who visited Korea last year received treatment for dermatology (35.2%) and plastic surgery (16.8%).

Foreigners who visited internal medicine doctors accounted for 13.4% while those who visited health check-up centers stood at 7.4%.

Foreign patients from a total of 198 countries visited Korea last year.

By country, Japanese patients topped the list with 187,711, accounting for 31%, followed by China with 112,135 people or 18.5%, the US with 76,925 or 12.7%, Thailand with 30,844 or 5.1% and Mongolia with 22,080 or 3.6%.

By type of medical institution, 66.5% of foreign patients used clinics, followed by 13.5% for general hospitals and 10.6% for tertiary general hospitals.

Oriental medicine clinics saw the highest foreign patient growth rate with an increase of 690% last year.

A foreign patient receives medical treatment at a hospital in Korea (Courtesy of Incheon Tourism Organization)
A foreign patient receives medical treatment at a hospital in Korea (Courtesy of Incheon Tourism Organization)

“Foreigners seem to have shown greater interest in oriental medicine clinics where treatment is often done with acupuncture or medicine instead of surgery,” said a ministry official.

SEOUL, TOP PLACE FOR SKIN CARE, PLASTIC SURGERY

Of all foreigners who traveled to Korea for medical tourism last year, 78.1% went to Seoul.

The greater Seoul metropolitan region, including surrounding Gyeonggi Province, accounted for 88.9% of all visiting foreign patients, according to the ministry.

That’s because most plastic surgery and dermatology clinics are located in Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan area, industry officials said.

“Based on the high global competitiveness of Korean healthcare, we will keep up efforts to make the country the medical tourism hub of Asia,” said Jung Eun-young, director-general of the ministry’s Health Industry Policy Bureau.

“We’ll also ensure the increasing number of foreign patients coming to Korea doesn’t affect the quality of medical services given to Koreans.”

Write to Jung-hwan Hwang at [email protected]

In-Soo Nam edited this article.


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