Illegal brokerage agencies are cashing in on medical tourists who visit South Korea for plastic surgery breaks.
Attracted by the low cost and ready availability of plastic surgery in South Korea, medical tourists – emboldened by sensational internet ‘before and after’ photos – are flocking to Seoul in droves.
The KHIDI or Korean Health Industry Development Institute have published data that shows a phenomenal increase in the number of medical tourists over the last few years. Chinese tourists make up a significant portion of overseas visitors to Korea, with the number of Chinese medical tourists alone leaping from 791 in 2009 to 16,000 in 2013.
In Chongqing alone, over 1000 women and men travelled to Korea to get plastic surgery in 2014 – mostly through medical tourism organizations.
But it has been reported that only 13 percent of overseas plastic surgery seekers travel through legal agencies. Currently, numerous illegal medical tourism operations are touting for business online and promoting ‘surgery packages’ organized by unregulated Chinese companies.
Concerns have been raised about the quality of care provided by illegal agencies. Rogue brokers often charge medical establishments up to 60 percent of a patient’s surgery costs as a ‘finder’s fee’, compared to the 20 percent cut suggested by the Korean government. This means that reputable hospitals and clinics opt out, and overseas plastic surgery clients are instead driven to substandard clinics.
Rather than going through a medical tourism agency in South Korea, the native population tend to base their medical choices on personal recommendations from family and friends. In contrast, overseas patients receive very little in the way of advice or support other than the promotional material provided by their brokerage agency.
The South Korean government is planning to impose new limits on brokerage fees, as well as harsher punishments and fines for those engaged in the illegal management of medical institutions. Ensuring medical tourism in South Korea doesn’t get a bad name is the driving force behind the Korean government’s plan to safeguard the country’s position as one of the world’s most popular medical tourist destinations.
Over the past few years, the government has bolstered the international presence of its home-grown medical industry. Korean authorities have simplified the visa process, making it easier for overseas patients to visit South Korea. Additionally, the government has set aside over 4 million USD for marketing purposes alone, so that potential medical tourists from other Asian countries as well as the USA can be better targeted by hospitals and clinics.
More than 30 respected clinics and hospitals have become involved with a government-run organisation known as the Council for Korea Medicine Overseas Promotion. The Council will work with Korean authorities in order to promote South Korea as a safe destination for medical procedures, including plastic and maxillofacial surgery. Plans involve an English language website, attendance at international exhibitions and partnerships with reputable overseas travel agencies and insurance companies.