Health Care Options
The following information is intended to give you an outline of medical care options in Korea, Seoul in particular. For specific information on a particular hospital/clinic/doctor or for more details on Korean health services, contact:
UPDATE: In early 2012, Seoul Metropolitan Government terminated the MRS programme. MRS (Medical Referal Service) at Seoul Help Centre for Foreigners - was staffed by volunteers. Foreign nationals/non-Korean speakers are advised to contact 1339.
Emergency Medical Information Center (1339) has bilingual staff that speak Korean plus English, Japanese, or Chinese so they can interpret for you if you need help communicating with Korean medical staff while you are at a clinic or hospital. The staff at 1339 can also give medical advice over the phone and directly connect you with emergency services when necessary. So if you call and describe your symptoms, 1339 can let you know what kind of treatment you need, and, if it is deemed serious, immediately connect you with emergency services. (K4E Note: We have received reports in 2012 that English speakers are not available on all shifts on 1339 - ie Sunday mornings, etc.)
Medical facilities in Korea, especially in Seoul, are generally of a high standard and many medical practitioners, doctors and dentists especially, have had excellent training either in-country, abroad, or both. Moreover, there are clinics and hospital that specifically target English-speaking or foreign patients. However, practices in even these facilities may be somewhat different in some areas than those to which you are accustomed (see NOTE below). English is spoken by the doctors, but not necessarily by their support or technical staff, although that is changing these days. You don’t have to go to international clinics only for medical treatment since English speaking medical staff can be found in almost every hospital and clinic around the country. However, to avoid language difficulties that may sometimes arise, it often helpful to write down one’s symptom and concerns as most Koreas read English better than they understand it.
Hospitals are usually equipped with the latest and most cutting edge medical equipment, which physicians like to use. There is sometimes a tendency to over-test in Korea, but it is possible to set a limit. A number of hospitals in Seoul have recently been completely renovated or re-built so that they are bright and modern-looking. However, sanitation and infection control practices are not always up to international standards at all times. Patients are usually expected to deposit a certain sum of money, either in cash or with a credit card, upon being admitted. (Please note that some hospitals may accept only certain credit cards.). This is to cover the cost of their stay and of any procedures/tests in advance, so depending on the reason for admission the amount may vary. It may be necessary to top up the ‘deposit’ if the original sum has been used up. Patients who do not have money on hand will be expected to provide a guarantor, often their employer. The bill must be paid in full when the patient is discharged.
1.Koreans do not have the same sense of privacy that Westerners do, so don't be embarrassed if the doctor asks to inspect you in front of other patients. If this is an issue for you, you can ask to have a screen put up. If possible, the staff will usually try to comply.
2.The wait time for medical treatment in hospitals can be quite long, even in the emergency unit.
3. In an emergency, you should take some cash with you (at least W500,000-W1,000,000) because some hospitals accept certain credit cards only. There are ATM machines located throughout most hospitals some of which allow access to you home account.
4. A medical insurance card is not recognized as a form or pre-payment. In fact, you will have to pay your medical bill in full in cash before you can be discharged. If you have global coverage, you can then submit the receipt to them for reimbursement.
5. If you are admitted to the hospital through the international clinic, your bill will likely be higher than if you had gone directly to emergency or been admitted by one of the hospital’s other departments.
6. As in many Asian countries, family members are generally expected to provide hospital patients with much of the non-medical care (bathing, feeding, etc.) that is usually provided by nursing staff in other areas of the world. Most families bring food to the hospital and sleep on the floor or sofa in the patient’s room. It is possible to hire private nurses, but they usually have to be given very specific instructions and they many not speak English. Some hospitals have VIP suites that resemble 5-star hotel rooms.
7. All medical practitioners in Korea must be Korean citizens.
International Clinics, operating either independently or within a hospital, are staffed by doctors who have studied abroad, usually in the U.S. However, it is important to be aware that doctors staffing international clinics are not necessarily family or general medicine specialists. Their qualifications are often like to be in other areas and it is sometimes difficult to figure out what that specialty is since they don’t always visibly post their qualifications.
Currently, no doctor can treat patients in any hospital other than the one to which he/she is affiliated. When dealing with an independent clinic, you may want to verify the doctor’s hospital affiliation - it’s usually with the closest one. The staff in the international clinic will help the patient liaise with specialists in the hospital and provide interpretation where needed.
Costs in the international clinics are generally significantly higher than for other doctors’ services and patients admitted to hospital via an international clinic are also likely to pay more than if they were admitted through the regular procedure, whether they are Korean or not. Both clinic and hospitals will accept credit card payments – albeit sometimes only certain ones. In most cases, the patient is expected to pay up front before receiving treatment – this applies to everyone in Korea. How you feel about the cost of health care in Korea, depends to a large extent on where you have lived previously.
Alternative medicine options are available in Korea, including traditional Oriental medical treatments such as herbal, acupuncture and chiropractic.
Editor's Note: The information above is based on the information K4E has available at the time of writing. Given how difficult it is to obtain clear and complete information in Korea as well as how quickly rules can change, please see this as a guide and do follow-up with the appropriate Korean government bodies to confirm its accuracy and/or to get the most current answers. K4E would appreciate your feedback should you find out that our information is out-of-date. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated on 2012-03-09
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