Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong is said to permit the opening of the Greenland International Hospital, which is the first domestic open-investment hospital, Wednesday. This is a somewhat relieving conclusion after several setbacks up until now. The Greenland International Hospital can start its business immediately after an official approval as the hospital already hired some 130 staffs to operate the hospital including doctors and nurses, not to mention medical facilities to accommodate 47 sickbeds.
The open investment hospital, which is also known as for-profit hospital, started during the Kim Dae-jung administration in 2002 to make Korea a medical hub of Northeast Asia. Three years later, the Ministry of Health and Welfare officially approved the investment business of the Greenland Group, a company based in China. The approval of opening the hospital, however, has been delayed for six times due to opposition by some civic groups and residents, with the Public Opinion Investigation Committee recommending the disapproval of the hospital in October.
Won explained that Jeju finally approved opening the for-profit hospital was determined, saying, “Although it is crucial to respect the recommendations of the Public Opinion Investigation Committee as much as we can, we came to a conclusion that now is the time to make a final decision by considering the recovery of regional economy such as administrative credibility, international creditworthiness, generation of quality jobs.” There is nothing more that degrades international credibility than to have municipal government to oppose opening the hospital, when the investor invested in facilities and human resources by trusting the government’s approval for investment and business plan. It is highly likely that the Jeju provincial government considered realistic problems that it is clear that the disapproval of opening the Greenland Hospital will lead to an international lawsuit worth some 100 billion won and the government or Jeju would have to compensate the damage.
Korea’s medical tourism industry is a future industry sector that is as competitive as semi-conductors and vehicles. It is estimated that the recently approved Greenland Hospital itself, will general 1,700 quality jobs by attracting some 10,000 foreign patients from now on. Last year, 321,000 medical tourists visited Korea from abroad such has China, Southeast Asia, and Middle East. Although this is a little less than the figure in 2016 of 364,000, there is ample opportunity that it will increase rapidly once the Korea-China relationship improves and as the for-profit hospital is vitalized. In particular, Jeju is stated to be the optimal place to experience treatment, convalescence, recuperation, and tourism at the same time in one place.
It is true, however, that some claim that the medical fees for domestic patients would increase because of profit-seeking investors profit once the so-called for-interest hospital is in place. This reporter hopes that the Greenland International Hospital of Jeju will become a case in point that puts an end to such concern and confirm the development possibility of Korea’s medical tourism industry.