The Korea Herald


Korean medical clinics see 76.5% decline in visits by foreigners in 2020: report

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : Sept. 6, 2021 - 17:47

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(Yonhap) (Yonhap)
The number of foreign patients at medical institutions in South Korea plummeted more than 75 percent last year as the COVID-19 pandemic restricted international travel and lowered demand for medical tourism.

According to a report released Aug. 30 by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute, the number of foreigners who visited Korean medical institutions last year came to 117,069, down 76.5 percent from 497,464 in 2019. The patients who did seek treatment here represented fewer countries, 173 in 2020 in contrast with 198 in 2019.

Restrictions on international travel and the entry of foreign nationals due to virus concerns contributed heavily to the sharp decline, the report said. The 2020 figure was the lowest since 2010.

The report was based on individual annual reports filed by certified medical clinics and hospitals throughout Korea.

Within the medical sector, the cosmetic surgery and dermatology segments suffered the largest declines, with the number of foreign cosmetic surgery patients falling 81.7 percent on-year to 16,585 and the number of foreign dermatology patients falling 81.9 percent to 15,409 visitors.

The number of foreign visitors to traditional Asian medicine clinics fell 90.7 percent to 2,204 people in 2020, a sharp contrast to the sector’s highest-ever figure of 23,723 patients just a year earlier.

With the COVID-19 pandemic in force, Korean medical institutions suffered the heaviest blow in numbers of visitors from China, the United States and Japan, the three biggest overseas consumer groups for local institutions in terms of profit.

The number of Chinese patients dropped 80.9 percent on-year to 31,084 in 2020, the sharpest fall for any nationality, and the number of patients from the United States dropped 69.1 percent to 18,004. Close to 80 percent fewer Japanese patients came to Korea to receive medical treatment in 2020.

The report estimated that the overall trend would continue this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic remained strong and the freedom to travel internationally for medical treatment could not be guaranteed.