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Medical Tourism


What is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism, as a standing out dynamic industry of the future, has been undergoing a fast development as several countries’ around the world started to take an interest in. This development inevitably has affected the meaning of medical tourism so that a extensive service fields, from ‘medical travel’ (having treatment abroad) to ‘health tourism’ (where treatment and tourism are combined), and to ‘wellness tourism’ (covering wide medical services), are now accepted under the body of medical tourism.   

Although being defined as a combination of treatment and tourism services, there is no compound and precise reconciliation on this definition. The concept, in its broadest sense, is used as a blending of health tourism, medical tourism, medical travel, well-being tour, wellness tourism, healing tour, etc. Having medical treatment services as central, nature-based tourism activities, mental training activities, stress control- and mental relaxation- oriented recreational activities, extra-medical recovery activities are counted as the subcategories of medical tourism.

Global Market
Medical tourism is one of the luxury tourism programs of 21st century, basically because of long terms of residence and high levels of cost. Nevertheless, this branch of tourism, after being commenced in Singapore and Thailand, has been growing rapidly that the number of tourists who have gone abroad for medical tourism was stated as 5.6 million in 2012. This swift development made market size react at approximately 10 billion dollars in the same year, signifying a 2.5 fold rise than that of 2004.  This amount is expected to reach to 33 billion dollars in 2019.

Korean Medical Tourism
Since the law of medicine, regarding the permission of the foreign patient incentive movement, was amended in May 2009, Korean medical tourism market has been developing rapidly and continuously thanks to the marketing activities of a industrious team working on health tourism activation policies.

The number of foreign patients visiting Korea is constantly increasing. While this figure was 60,201 in 2009, it raised to 159,464 and 296,889, respectively in 2012 and in 2015. The revenue of medical tourism was 6.7 billion won in 2015; and an average growth rate of 51.8% was achieved compared to 2009. According to the future projection, the number of tourists who will visit Korea for medical tourism in 2018 is expected to be be 790,000 and the size of medical tourism market is expected to be 8.7 billion dollars.

* Tourists Visited Korea for Medical Purposes (by Country)

Korean Medical Tourism Trend
According to the medical tourism satisfaction survey, participated by 1,547 people in 2015, the ratio of visitors who came for health services or health care and tourism for the first time is 64.3%. The ratio of visitors who did not have the prior idea of health services in Korea, but benefited from them after arriving in the country is 29.5%. When age intervals of the respondents are evaluated, 60+ years old visitors compose the biggest group (77.8%) among the others who came for medical facilities. Below 29 age interval constitutes 34.5% of ‘those who used health services after entering the country for other reasons’.

Classification based on countries shows that Chinese visitors mostly benefited from ‘health services and tourism’, Russian and Kazakh visitors only used 'health services'; whereas  American and Japanese visitors mostly utilized ‘health care services after entering the country for other reasons’.

With respect to the types of treatment, receiving health services related to aesthetic surgery cases has the most significant figure with 82.3%. Apart from the aesthetic surgeries, it is observed that the patients who underwent a general surgery constitute the highest rate among the visitors, accommodating in the hospital only for the purposes of medical reasons without touristic intentions. As the survey entails, it is necessary to develop diverse tourism programs and products considering the rise in the demand for health services.

Among the reasons of choosing Korea for medical tourism, ‘The health team's superior medical skills' has the highest rate. Along with this, ‘Credibility of health institutions’ (56%), ‘The best medical devices and facilities’ (40.1%), and ‘Foreign patient oriented human services infrastructure’ (31.7%) seem to be prominent reasons. According to the assessment comparing countries, ‘The best medical devices and facilities’ for Russians, ‘Reasonable pricing’ and ‘Easiness-to-contact’ for Japans, and ‘Reasonable pricing’ for Americans are ranked at top.

Competition in Korean Medical Tourism Market
The competition in Korean medical tourism market has been further increased by the government support policy, along with the advanced medical technology in Korea, as well as a lower price and faster service. However, related to the growth of worldwide medical tourism market, the competition in the region has also risen internationally, and serious obstacles, such as the production of illegal vehicles, have been emerged as threats to the revitalization of medical tourism. One of Korea's leading medical tourism sub-branches is the treatment of cancer, which is accepted as one of the major diseases. There are scientific evidences showing that life expectancy rate of the patients who received cancer treatment in Korea regarding following 5 years after treatment, and the success rate of liver transplant operations in Korea, are higher than the rates in the United States. When the gastric cancer patients’ survival rate (for following 5 years after treatment) is considered; this figure is 73.1% in Korea, whereas it is 29.3% in America. In goiter cancer, which has recently been seen in young women, the survival rate in following 5 years has reached 100% in Korea. As to OECD statistics, Korea is ranked as 2nd country in the world for having the highest survival rate of cervical cancer for following 5 years after treatment.

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