Friday, May 23, 2014

Medical tourism figures on the rise

A 38-year-old woman from Khabarovsk, Russia, suffered from infertility throughout her 20-year marriage. After a series of unsuccessful pregnancies and two miscarriages, she consulted doctors in Russia, but could not determine the cause. Earlier this year, she came to a hospital in Seoul and realized that her fertility complications were caused by a reduction in the blood supply in her placenta due to problems with her immune system. In April this year, she underwent a successful in vitro fertilization process. She has now been pregnant for 27 weeks and plans to return to Russia now that it is safe to travel.

The above is just one example of the way in which the number of inbound medical tourists has been rising rapidly over the past few years. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare on May 20, 210,000 non-Korean patients from 191 nations received medical treatment in Korea in 2013. This is an increase of 32.5 percent from the 159,464 in 2012, and is a 3.5-fold increase over 2009′s figures.

By nationality, 57,075 Chinese patients were treated in Korea in 2013, followed by 32,750 Americans, 24,026 Russians, 16,849 Japanese and 12,034 Mongolians. Most of all, the number of inbound Russian patients increased by nearly 46 percent in 2013 over the previous year.

A bilateral agreement to send more patients from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Korea helped the number of inbound UAE patients rise. The number of inbound UAE patients more than doubled, from 342 in 2012 to 1,151 in 2013. In addition, there is a steady increase in the number of patients from Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Uzbekistan.

The type of treatments most commonly sought by overseas patients are internal medicine procedures, including problems with the digestion and circulatory systems. They accounted for 68,453 patients, making up 24.4 percent of last year’s medical tourists. Some 28,135 patients, or 10 percent, came for just a general health check, while 25,101 people, or 9 percent, had dermatological treatments for skin problems. A total of 24,075 patients, 8.6 percent, sought cosmetic surgery, while 15,899 patients, or 5.7 percent, used Seoul’s gynecological services.

Chinese patients sought plastic surgery, dermatological and internal medicine procedures, in that order. One out of four Chinese patients received plastic surgery or skin treatments. Russian patients came for internal medicine procedures, general health checks, gynecological checkups, general surgery and dermatological treatments, in that order. Also, it was found that many Russian patients had dire symptoms related to cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

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