Best Way to Navigate Korea’s Healthcare

Best Way to Navigate Korea’s Healthcare

When you first arrive into a foreign country like Korea, the most basic of tasks suddenly become impossible. Even ordering out can seems like a daunting task. So what in the world do you do when it comes to your health and visiting the hospital? Here’s all you need to know in order to successfully get through the healthcare system in Korea and ensure that you have an affordable experience!


Levels of Korean Healthcare

If you are from outside of Korea, then you might have some trouble figuring out where to go to first when you’re are sick or in need of a yearly checkup. That’s because the healthcare system is set up slightly different from most foreigner countries.


First Line of Defense: 3rd Tier Clinic

In Korea, there are three levels: 3rd Tier Clinic (can be found anywhere, most local clinics), 2nd Tier Medium Hospital (fairly well known hospitals), 1st Tier General Hospital (famous university hospitals). This is the official system established by the Korean government. In 3rd tier clinics/health centers are made up of general practitioners. They are your first line of defense against your basic colds and ailments. They also cover your yearly checkups including OB/GYN visits, eye checks, overall health checks, blood tests, urine tests and so on.


Appointments and Walk-ins

The MAJORITY of these small clinics are staffed with a few receptionists and nurses and are run by a single doctor or a handful of doctors. As a result, most prefer walk-ins, where anyone walking down the street can walk in to whatever clinic is available. Many of them do allow for appointments, but it is the cultural practice here just to walk in whenever you want. The wait period is generally very short, around 15 to 45 minutes before you’re able to see the doctor. They provide high-quality medical attention, and doctors there will be experienced. Everyone accepts Korean national health insurance, and some of these clinics will accept international health insurance as well.


** You CANNOT go to a 1st Tier General Hospital without a referral from a 3rd Tier Clinic or 2nd Tier Medium Hospital**


Second Line of Defense: 2nd Tier Medium Hospital

These medium-sized hospitals tend to have more specialized departments and doctors available. The size and number of patients seen are significantly bigger than that of a regular, 3rd Tier clinic. The price increases slightly because of this. In order to go to the General Hospital, you would have to get a referral from a 2nd Tier Medium-sized Hospital or a 3rd Tier Clinic.


Severe and Deadly Diseases and Illness: 1st Tier General Hospital

Most 1st Tier General Hospitals are university hospitals. Some examples can include Samsung Hospital, Ansan Hospital, and Seoul National University Hospital. These large general hospitals have a department that covers everything from psychiatry to oncology. They mostly deal with more severe diseases, and, as a result, tend to be more expensive than the regular clinics and hospitals that you see on the streets. In order to be classified as a 1st Tier General Hospital, the government inspects the hospital and makes sure that it fits within these category guidelines. For example, in order to be a General Hospital in Korea, you have to have more than 500 beds in the hospital.


General Size Classification

For a 2nd Tier Medium-sized Hospital, the hospital needs to have between 30 to 300 beds in size, and to be considered a 3rd Tier Clinic, you need to have 30 beds or less in the clinic. That demonstrates that size plays a factor in the classification system. However, the number of services and specialties the hospital offers plays a bigger role.


**If you have a serious illness like cancer or MERS, there is no need to go to a 3rd Tier or 2nd Tier hospital. You can go straight to a General Hospital**


Things You Need to Know BEFORE Going to the Hospital:

-Generally, if you get a prescription, buy the medicine from the nearby pharmacy. Pharmacies in other areas will most likely NOT have that medicine in stock. It becomes a huge pain to get the prescription filled.

-Getting shots in your butt is not uncommon here, even for a cold. You can always request to have the shot done in your shoulder or to not have the shot at all (usually it’s just supplements)

-If you get a cold or the flu and your doctor prescribes 3 days-worth of medication, feel free to ask for the full prescription. Sometimes doctors split the prescription so that you have to go back and get checked again. You can ask to receive the full prescription then and there, especially if you are too busy to return. If you feel like your cold is particularly bad, then you ask for a longer prescription as well.

-Some clinics are opened at night (after 6 pm) or on the weekends. If you come during those times, there is a 30% increase in price for the medical visit. If you pick up medication on the weekend as well, there is also a price increase of 30%

-Each General Hospital has an international clinic within its overall hospital. The international clinic offers English-speaking services and additional assistance that the regular parts of the hospital might not offer. As a result, it will be 3 or 4 times more expensive than a regular hospital visit.

-You can visit the regular hospital without going to the international clinic even if you are a foreigner. However, everything will be done in Korean.