So, from where is Korea looking to attract its patients? The drivers of accessibility and cultural match provide the answer:
- Although the USA is a twelve hour flight away, cultural connections mean that the Korean community within the USA has to be a prime target. Around 1.2 million Korean Americans, many of whom are on the West coast should provide a source of patients.
- Within a one hour flight from Korea is Japan, already a source of many cosmetic surgery tourists, and where healthcare costs are rising fast.
- And not much farther away is China which may provide a plentiful supply of medical tourists in the longer term.
- The interesting market that Korea and many countries are turning their attention to is Russia. With the movement towards a market economy in Russia, there’s a wealthy upper class that is investing abroad, taking holidays abroad....and seeking healthcare abroad.
How can Korea create a competitive advantage in the overcrowded world of medical tourism? It may not be in Western medicine; Kang Dong Hospital in Busan is a Korean hospital that combines Western medicine with “traditional” oriental medicine and provides a model of healthcare that is attractive to many in the Far East.
Another opportunity is for Korea to build on its existing strengths and the image it has created in world markets. Through the success of companies such as Samsung and LG, Korea has created a hi-tech modern image for itself. Applying its technological knowhow and skills to the medical tourism sector may prove advantageous in creating an edge over the competition. The only technology company that I have encountered at a medical tourism conference so far is Samsung.
It has been said that Korea’s success in technology and in manufacturings industries such automotive lies in its ability to copy what others are doing, learn from their mistakes, do it better and work harder at it. If Korea applies the same philosophy to medical tourism, then some of the more established destinations will be looking over their shoulders.