Korean export items will soon no longer be confined to K-pop and cell phones. People all over the world are realizing the high-quality and reasonably-priced medical services available in Korea, and they are coming to Korea in droves for medical reasons ranging from simple skin treatments to complicated plastic surgery.
The phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by the Korean government. It is working to revamp the Korean medical system to boost the promising business sector. In fact, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has just created the Overseas Support Center for Medical Services.
BusinessKorea interviewed Jong Ho-won, the head of the new center, to find out about the center’s role, outlook for 2014, and collaboration with other departments, as well as his view on where Korea stands in medical service infrastructure competitiveness.
In light of establishing an overseas support center for medical services within the Ministry of Health and Welfare last September, please explain the center’s role in detail.
Largely, we are running three kinds of operations. First, we attract foreign patients for medical tourism. Second, we support our medical system expanding overseas. And third, we train medical experts in Korea and support foreign medical staff training in Korea. These programs are all comprehensively operated at the state level.
To attract overseas patients, we try to improve medical laws and systems to allow domestic insurance companies to invite foreign patients, develop promotional materials to publicize the excellence of Korean medical services, invite state-supported foreign patients through inter-governmental cooperation, secure a channel for settling direct payment transactions with global insurance companies, determine international medical treatment fees, and run reporting centers for illegal brokers. In one word, we are engaged in enhancing market transparency and reliability.
To support Korean medicine advancing into foreign markets, we pursue inter-governmental deregulation, support securing contracts of governmental projects, seek systematic improvement such as ironing out guidelines on medical companies’ overseas investments, build financial aid systems including raising funds for small to medium-sized hospitals going overseas, develop models for a medical information system for overseas activities, and develop specialized institutions that will support overseas expansion.
Lastly, we nurture human resources specializing in foreign patients and overseas expansion such as medical interpreters, medical tourism coordinators, and foreign market entry consultants. We also invite medical trainees from collaborating countries such as Saudi Arabia to domestic medical institutions and plan their training programs.
How was Korea’s overseas medical performance up to last year, and how is the outlook for 2014?
As of September 2013, 111 medical institutions were based in 20 different countries. Up until then, the activities were centered around voluntary overseas expansion led by the private sector. The expansion was mainly limited to China and the U.S., mostly in the fields of dermatology, plastic surgery, dental, spinal, and oriental medicine. However, due to its short history, now is the time to build diverse expansion experience and seek successful models. At the same time, the medical field’s overseas expansion will speed up, triggered by the onset of building infrastructure for expansion as well as inter-governmental cooperation-based projects.
For the medical field’s overseas expansion, it seems that we also need cooperation from other departments, not just a ministerial effort within the Ministry of Health and Welfare. How is it proceeding?
The ministry is realizing the need for cooperation with other relevant departments.
In this regard, the government, including the Ministry of Health and Welfare, announced the formation of a Task Force for Private and Governmental Cooperation on International Medical Business through the Overseas Expansion Plan for Korean Medicine introduced during a ministerial-level foreign economics meeting in November 2013.
This will function as a control tower for the medical field’s overseas expansion, encompassing the nationwide gamut including the government, public institutes, and related industry and private sector experts. It will consist of a government departmental consultative body, private experts’ consulting meeting/forum, and working level implementation team.
The working level implementation team will cooperate with the relevant department to form an international medical operating team to support practical operations such as designing joint strategies and exploring and executing joint tasks.
The team will have 25 members from five public offices including the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Korea Health Industry Development Institute, Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, Korea Tourist Services Inc., Korea Human Resource Development Institute for Health & Welfare, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency.
How would you evaluate the competitiveness of Korea’s medicine and tourism infrastructure in terms of luring overseas patients? How about some tasks to be done?
Korea boasts of excellent medical skills and reasonable costs, but our quality medical services are relatively unknown, due to a lack of promotion. In 2014, we are planning to actively support the development of services that combine medical resources and tourism resources.
Gaining competitiveness in medical equipment and systems seems to be necessary in luring overseas patients and medical exports. Is the government making any effort in this aspect?
As previously stated, the Ministry of Health and Welfare is planning to build a business model to boost our competitiveness for overseas expansion of the medical field, such as medical information systems.
Since 2012, the government has been developing and distributing manuals on overseas expansion, in support of the private medical sector’s expansion projects and initial expansion aid.
Also, through joint R&D with relevant departments, it will set up export models on hospital management, patient care, and medical information systems. These systems will measure and evaluate medical quality, standardize terms, work with future Electronic Health Records, and offer a framework for remote diagnosis.