Health care in South Korea - Statistics & Facts

The life expectancy of South Koreans was 82.7 years in 2018, which was the fifth oldest among OECD members. The number of patients dying from circulatory diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke has been lower than the OECD average. Despite this, the percentage of Koreans who considered themselves healthy was the lowest among OECD countries. South Koreans visited medical institutions about 20 times a year on average, and the cost of health and medicine purchases has steadily increased over the last decade.

Public health insurance in South Korea is a “National Health Insurance (NHI)” and one of the social insurance systems. South Korean National Health Insurance is one of the leading social security system models in the world; contributing to the country’s title with the most accessible and satisfying healthcare system. In South Korea, medical fees are set by law and must be paid to medical institutions directly. The value of medical costs depends on the type of diseases and which medical institution the patient is treated in.

As of 2017, the number of hospital beds in South Korean hospitals was 12.3 per 1,000 population, the second largest after Japan. The number of doctors and nurses nationwide is steadily increasing, but the number of patients per doctor and nurse is much higher than in other countries. Doctors are paid high salaries in Korea, earning about five times higher salaries more than regular workers. However, the working environment of Korean medical staff is poor, and some doctors work more than 100 hours per week.

After being allowed to attract international patients in 2009, the number of foreign patients in South Korea has risen sharply, exceeding the cumulative number of two million patients in 2018. The number of patients from China and the United States accounted for the largest share, followed by patients from Japan, Russia, Mongol, and Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam and Thailand. The South Korean government plans to provide institutional support and has a great interest on attracting foreign patients as this will ultimately lead to overseas expansion of domestic medical institutions as well as the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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Health care in South Korea

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Foreign patients


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