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Medical tourism mushrooms in South Korea

Seoul, South Korea — Medical tourism is one of Asia’s fastest-growing industries, and the practice is booming in South Korea — especially in the area of cosmetic surgery, Reuters reports.

According to statistics from the Korea Health Industry Development Institute, nearly 82,000 medical tourists visited South Korea last year, generating about $700 million in revenues. Three years previously, fewer than 8,000 medical tourists traveled to the country.

Health Industry Development Institute official Han Dong-woo predicts that about 200,000 medical tourists will visit the Asian country next year and that by 2020, South Korea will attract as many as 1 million medical tourists annually, Reuters reports.

“I see an infinite growth potential in the plastic surgery market for foreigners,” Mr. Han tells Reuters, adding that procedures in South Korea cost about half what they do in the United States.

The mushrooming medical tourism market, however, has some healthcare experts concerned about medical errors, lax follow-up care, and insurance, regulatory and ethical issues. In a 2010 report, the World Health Organization said rapid development of medical tourism had presented “considerable implications for public health,” noting that the influx of foreign patients could well mean higher healthcare costs. “In addition, an increasing number of health services might cater (to) the needs of foreign patients and neglect local needs,” the report stated.

A paper published last year in the International Journal for Equity in Health said that if medical tourism achieved even a fraction of its projected growth, it “could ultimately lead to locals being priced out of their own healthcare system, as demand from foreign patients can drive up the costs of providing care for everyone,” Reuters reports.

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