Chinese tourists lead to spike in medical disputes in Korea

  • Nearly 70 per cent of medical disputes involved patients travelling from China for treatment
  • Cancer, cosmetic surgery and skincare most common procedures
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2018, 1:51pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2018, 10:57pm

Chinese nationals were behind the vast majority of medical disputes in South Korea over the past six years, making up nearly 70 per cent of all cases involving foreigners in a major hotbed of Asian medical tourism.

Government data released this week revealed 810 medical disputes were registered with the Korea Medical Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Agency since 2013, of which 538 involved Chinese patients.

The number of annual medical disputes was 147 last year, up from 137 in 2016.

Medical disputes involving Chinese tourists have now dwarfed the number of cases involving other foreign nationals in Korea. Americans were only responsible for 72 disputes during the entire period, while the next most common nationalities were Vietnamese, Mongolian and Russian patients, who were behind 41, 22 and 17 cases respectively.

The most common types of procedures involved in the disputes were plastic surgery, orthopaedic surgery and obstetrics.

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“It is necessary to come up with measures, such as increasing the number of counsellors or translators so that foreign patients can solve medical disputes with local medical institutions and hospitals,” lawmaker Choi Do-ja said, according to Korean news agency Yonhap.

South Korea is a booming medical tourism hub within Asia and more than 320,000 foreigners arrived for medical treatment in 2017 alone, according to government figures.

Almost 100,000 of these medical tourists were from China – a considerable drop from 2016, when 127,648 of them went to South Korea.

The fall in numbers was due to a large-scale informal tourism boycott encouraged by Beijing that year, as a result of geopolitical tensions over South Korea’s installation of the US-backed THAAD anti-missile defence system.

Some of the most common treatments for medical tourists travelling to South Korea included cancer, cosmetic surgery and skincare.

Patients who believe they have experienced medical malpractice must settle their case with the Korea Medical Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Agency.

The Korean government introduced stronger protection measures for foreign patients undergoing surgery in 2015, after a Chinese female patient fell into a coma after a plastic surgery procedure at a Korean clinic.