South Korea has made a serious effort to brand itself as a Health Care Tourism destination. “Medical tourism” is a phrase normally synonymous with “cheap plastic surgery” but, as we’ve discovered during our own adventures in Korean hospitals and clinics, that’s not all it means. “Would Mr. Horn please enter the doctor’s office?”
On one of our hikes around Busan, Jürgen had twisted his ankle pretty severely. I asked if he shouldn’t get it checked out, but he insisted that he’d be fine. The next day, I noticed him hobbling and suggested more forcefully that he go to the doctor. Still, he refused. Then I saw how swollen it was, and snapped. “This is exactly why we have travel insurance. What kind of idiot hobbles around on a swollen ankle?! GO!”
Of course, I can understand his reluctance. Going to the hospital in a foreign country is a nerve-wracking experience and, until now, one we’ve been able to avoid. You have no idea what to expect, whether the doctors will even speak English, or how much it’s going to cost. We have travel insurance, but have to pay the bills up front, and later get reimbursed. Jürgen was visibly nervous, so I gave him an encouraging pat on the butt, then watched him hobble into the Good Gang An Hospital.
I waited at a nearby cafe. When he showed up about 90 minutes later, he was beaming. “Korea is wonderful!”
“When I stepped into the reception area, it was like they were waiting for me! Oh hello, how are you, what’s the problem, please sit here, the doctor will be right with you, oh here he is already, please step this way. It was amazing, how quick and smooth everything was. There’s a special reception desk just for foreigners, and the hospital was so clean and high-tech. They took six x-rays of my ankle (it’s just twisted, nothing too serious) and set me up with a physical therapist for the next week to work on it”.
“So what’s the cost?” (Always my first question when I find Jürgen in such an enthusiastic state.) I needn’t have worried, though. It was less than $200. That’s the total cost. With a week of physical therapy, two hours a day. With six x-rays. With top-notch, instantaneous attention from an English-speaking doctor. It’s almost not worth filing a reimbursement form with our insurance company!
Bolstered by his experience, we decided to go ahead with a dream I’d been harboring of for most of my life — having my awful vision corrected with LASIK. My adventure in the wild world of Korean Health Care, coming soon.