In the future, foreign patients are expected to benefit from receiving medicines from in-hospital pharmacies, similar to the current system for hospitalized domestic patients and the disabled.
At the 11th Economic Coordination Meeting held on June 8, the Ministry of Health & Welfare (MW) announced countermeasures to stimulate medical tourism to support the nation's take-off toward an Asian medical tourism hub, targeting inducement of 300,000 foreign patients annually by 2015.
According to the ministry, Korea's medical tourism industry, which went into full swing in May 2009, has established a stable growth foundation through the government's fiscal input and invigoration of private investment to date.
Compared with Thailand, Singapore and India that hold the lead in Asian medical tourism, however, Korea's performance results are still poor. A low awareness level and insufficient infrastructure were pointed out as being among the causes.
Whereas the number of foreign patients induced by Korea in 2010 stood at 81,789, Thailand, Singapore and India attracted 1.56 million, 720,000 and 730,000 patients, respectively.
Accordingly, the ministry decided to advance the medical tourism industry and pursue improved systems to back the nation's leap toward an Asian medical tourism hub through achievement of medium and long-term medical tourist inducement goals.
Of particular note, the ministry established seven core tasks for priority promotion - introduction of a compensation system for foreign patients; easing of limitations on floor area ratios at the time of new or expanded construction of accommodation facilities inside medical institutions; access to in-hospital pharmacies for foreign patients; expansion of training programs for foreign medical personnel and permission of their partial participation in clinical tests; increased cultivation of specialized manpower; appraisal of accommodation capacities for foreign patients by medical institution; and improvement of visa system.
In addition, the ministry also suggested 13 general tasks, including partial permission for travel business activities for registered foreign patient inducement businesses under the Medical Act, alleviation of foreign patient inducement business registration criteria for general travel businesses, evaluation of inducement results & expansion of government awards, pan-governmental support for overseas publicity, strengthening of support systems for collection of overseas market information, etc., parallel expression of medical institution names in Korean and foreign languages, and introduction of national technical qualification certificates for coordinators related to international medical tourism.
A related official at the ministry said, "Medical tourism is a next-generation industry to lead the future of our country. Through the present activation measures, momentum was prepared to minimize inconvenience for foreign patients when they visit Korea and also for registered foreign patient inducement organizations to conduct business more actively."