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Major hospitals to use more Korean-made equipment

Korea’s hospitals and medical equipment producers joined forces on Wednesday to help the local health care industry, which faces increased competition from overseas following free trade pacts.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy brought together chiefs of the country’s eight major hospitals and executives from eight medical device manufacturers including Samsung Medison and LG Electronics.

The gathering was aimed at scaling up the use of Korean-made products in hospitals here, inciting private investment and notching up the service quality in health care, the ministry said.

Under the initiative, hospitals, companies and state-run think tanks will carry out joint research, design clinical trials and fix errors by exchanging feedback, the ministry said. Once developed, the machines will be installed in the clinics.

Among participating hospitals are Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital with the Catholic University of Korea Severance Hospital, Samsung Medical Center, the National Cancer Center and Seoul National University Bundang Hospital. Companies also include Infinitt Healthcare, Alpinion Medical Systems, BIT Computer and Lutronic.

“(The plan) will not only facilitate inroads of small medical equipment firms into major hospitals, which had been difficult to access as it requires enormous funds and time, but also help bring the standard of Korean devices up another notch,” Knowledge Economy Vice Minister Yoon Sang-jik said at the meeting.

The initiative comes as Corporate Korea braces for fiercer competition in the wake of free trade agreements with the European Union and the U.S.

Experts anticipate Korean health care companies, along with farmers, are likely to be the hardest hit by duty-free imports. Despite surging demand for health products from the fast-aging population, the domestic market has long been dominated by multinationals such as Siemens and Philips.

Korea is Asia’s fourth largest and the world’s 13th largest medical device market. It has expanded at double-digit rates annually since 2005, nearing 3 billion euros ($4 billion) in 2010, according to the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea.

Foreign makers supply almost two-thirds of the country’s needs, around a third of which are based in EU nations. Germany supplies about 13 percent of the total, followed by Ireland, Switzerland, the U.K. and France.

To alleviate local concerns, the government set aside 100 billion won ($88 million) by 2015 to subsidize companies and institutions for their R&D programs, build infrastructure and revamp regulations and policies.

Aside from the newest plan, the ministry said it would spend an additional 30 billion won by 2016 to commercialize products and certify and evaluate new technologies.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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