Korea sees record high in inbound medical tourists

A building's facade is covered with  signboards for various medical clinics, July 27, 2023. Korea Times photo by Hong In-ki

More than 600,000 foreigners traveled to Korea last year for medical procedures, marking a record high in the history of the country’s medical tourism industry, the health ministry said Monday.Korea received 605,768 patients of foreign nationalities, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. They were non-beneficiaries of the national health insurance who came to Korea from overseas for medical services.The ministry has been stepping up efforts to boost the country’s medical tourism industry since May 2023, which apparently paid off with a 144.2 percent jump from the previous year’s 248,000 visitors.Last year’s figure is 21.8 percent higher than the pre-pandemic peak of 497,000 visitors and a record high since Korea allowed medical institutions to attract foreign patients in 2009.Patients representing a total of 198 nationalities visited Korea for medical tourism last year.Japan topped the list with 187,711 visitors at 31 percent, followed by China with 112,135 at 18.5 percent, the United States with 76,925 at 12.7 percent, Thailand with 30,844 at 5.1 percent and Mongolia with 22,080 at 5.1 percent.

More than half of last year’s foreign patients received aesthetic treatments — 35.2 percent for dermatology and 16.8 percent for plastic surgery.Notably, Korean traditional medicine saw the highest rate of increase of 689.9 percent by type of institution, which the ministry attributes to the rising global popularity of Korean culture.By region, Seoul was the most visited, taking up 78.1 percent of the total visitors.Before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the number of medical tourists visiting Korea had been increasing steadily since 2009.The percentage of foreign patients visiting Seoul went down by 49.8 percent in 2021, but soon recovered to surpass 50 percent the following year.As a result, Seoul and its surrounding area, where most cosmetic, plastic surgery and dermatology clinics are concentrated, saw its percentage of visitors jump from 78.2 percent in 2022 to 88.9 percent in 2023.”The ministry plans to enhance government support and improve its medical system and regulations to make Korea become a key medical tourism destination of Asia,” said Jung Eun-young, the director general of the ministry’s Bureau of Health Industry Policy.”Also, the ministry will continue to monitor to prevent a lack of medical supplies for Korean nationals 스포츠토토존 while attracting foreign patients.”

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