Ewha Womans University Medical Center has been Korea’s trail blazer in health care for women. It was founded by an American missionary 125 years ago when medical facilities were virtually off-limits to women. Its specialized center has contributed with fighting breast, ovarian and other cancers that affect women.
The Seoul-based hospital, affiliated with Ewha Womans University, now looks to a new milestone with a plan to build a second complex combining its technological edge, private care and the new growth engine of medical tourism.
It will be established on a 33,360-square-meter site in Magok, northwestern Seoul, by 2017 to house a 1,000-bed hospital and Ewha’s medical school.
The expansion plan epitomizes director Lee Soon-nam’s future vision for embracing a “smart” medical service by offering tailored care, challenging the most difficult diseases, and catering to international patients coming to Korea in increasing numbers.
It will deliver innovative “one-stop” service utilizing information technology-based systems that would allow everything from reservations to checking diagnosis results via mobile devices.
Ewha will be the first hospital in Korea that offers private rooms for all inpatients. Its 1,000 rooms will be single occupancy offered at a price no higher than the current multiple-bed rooms.
“It is to secure privacy and contain the infection risk for patients,” Lee, who also serves as vice president of Ewha Womans University, told The Korea Herald in an interview.
|Lee Soon-nam (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
“Privacy has become an important issue for patients. Patients have been complaining that they were often disturbed by other patients and their families staying in the same room,” she added.
It will be 30 percent VIP rooms and 70 percent single rooms. The single-room advantage will require no extra charges, and is likely to bring about a major change to Korea’s hospital ward system.
The extra cost for private wards has been cited by patients as one of the most burdensome medical expenses, along with the cost of caregivers and premium rates when seeing doctors of their choice.
The country’s state health insurance currently covers standard ward accommodation, which is five or six beds per room. Premium rates are charged for patients who choose to stay in a private or semi-private ward with two beds.
The new hospital will be located just a five-minute drive from Gimpo International Airport, better positioned to serve a growing number of foreign patients attracted by the country’s advanced medical services at relatively low costs.
For foreign patients, particularly those from the Middle East or Russia, medical service fees are considerably low, an official at the hospital said. The hospital envisions foreign patients will make up 20-30 percent.
As its core growth engine, the new hospital will also focus on treating patients with highly critical diseases such as cardiovascular disorder and cerebral infraction.
The medical center current operates Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital in southwestern Seoul, which will continue to focus on treating diseases that affect women, including ovarian, cervical and endometrial cancer.
Established in 1887, Ewha Medical Center is the country’s first hospital to provide medical services to women. In the late Joseon era, Korean women were not allowed to visit hospitals that had only male physicians.
“King Gojong named the clinic Boguyeogwan, meaning an institute to protect and save women. The spirit of the clinic remains today and still is the basis of the hospital’s operation,” Lee said.
For the last 125 years, Ewha Medical Center has been prioritizing and expanding research and treatment of women-specific diseases. A turning point came in 2009 when it launched the nation’s first cancer center specialized in cancers that only affect women.
The opening of the women-only “Lady Ward” in the cancer center was also a hit, attracting female patients not only in Korea but also those from overseas. The number of patients visiting and undergoing surgery for breast and thyroid cancer surged, quickly placing the hospital sixth in the number of breast cancer operations.
Lee said the Ewha center aims to become a research-focused hospital that makes profits largely from new drugs and medical technologies rather than relying on existing services.
It also plans to invest more into its specialized centers for organ transplants and sleep disorder.
“Frankly speaking, most of the major hospitals have been compensating losses caused by low medical fees with profits earned by running funeral (businesses). I feel shameful,” she said.
“Ewha will become a research-focused hospital that creates new income sources to reinvest in the hospital in order to provide better and smarter services for patients in the future,” she said.
Asked of her vision on future hospitals, she said they should be capable of providing smart, state-of-the art and safe medical services for acute patients only, Lee stressed. The role of taking care of long-term patients should be separated to help hospitals focus more on R&D and critical care, she added.
The director, a renowned hemato-oncologist, said she chose to study cancer 30 years ago, believing that humans would be able to conquer the disease by now. Cancer remains a major threat to mankind, but the world has seen considerable progress in treating the deadly disease.
Chronic bone cancer, for instance, is treatable with proper medication, she said.
The key to conquering cancer, however, is preventing it, she added.
“Conquering cancer is thus far considered impossible. But it is preventable or curable if diagnosed early. It is also important to help cancer patients to pursue a longer, active and valuable life.
“I hope to see the world capable of preventing or treating cancer, as the molecular level of the cell is now being studied (to uncover the mystery of cancer),” she said.Lee Soon-nam's profile
By Cho Chung-un (email@example.com