Data released by South Korea's health ministry showed that about 248,000 foreign patients visited South Korea to receive medical treatments in 2022, up 70.1 percent from a year ago. In 2022, patients from 192 countries visited South Korea. Americans accounted for the largest portion, followed by Chinese, Japanese, and Thai. Before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across South Korea, some 497,000 medical tourists visited the country in 2019. Most medical travelers received internal medicine treatment, plastic surgery, and skin treatment.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare revealed its plan to increase the number of foreign patients to 700,000 by 2027. The number of designated agencies that provide electronic visas will be increased to 50 by 2023 from 27 in 2022. The agencies affiliated with the justice ministry will enable tourists to receive visas without having them visit diplomatic offices such as embassies and consulates.
Unlike the current system in which only the immediate family can take care of patients, foreign patients' siblings will be allowed to look after tourists hospitalized in South Korea. Under the new system, caregivers and guardians do not need to submit a document that proves their financial capacity.
The ministry will also create healthcare tourism clusters in which patients can enjoy tourist attractions after their treatments are over. The clusters will be established in various regions including the western port city of Incheon, the southeastern industrial city of Daegu, and the southern port city of Busan. Without disclosing specific details, the ministry said South Korean music will be also used in the marketing strategy.
Earlier this month, a total of 39 interpreters were appointed in Gangnam, a southern district in Seoul, to help foreign medical tourists accurately communicate with doctors and nurses. The coordinators can help tourists in nine languages -- English, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Mongolian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Thai, and Arabic. As of 2021, Gangnam had the largest number of medical centers with 2,790 out of 18,261 facilities in the capital city.
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