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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

More Emiratis flock to South Korea for medical treatment

So far, about 8,000 Emiratis have visited Seoul for medical services

Dr Eun Ky Kim, a clinical assistant professor and internal medicine and endocrinology specialist at SNUH in Seoul, is primarily responsible for the hospital's Middle Eastern patients. Antonie Robertson / The National
Dr Eun Ky Kim, a clinical assistant professor and internal medicine and endocrinology specialist at SNUH in Seoul, is primarily responsible for the hospital's Middle Eastern patients. Antonie Robertson / The National

From kidney and liver transplants to cancer treatment and cardiovascular diseases, almost 850 Emiratis visit South Korea each year to receive globally renowned medical services.

So far, around 8,000 UAE patients have flown to Seoul since 2009. Now, both countries hope to take that partnership further by reeling in doctor training with police and armed forces across different emirates.

“A variety of patients come from the UAE, usually for general surgery or bone marrow, liver or kidney transplantation,” said Yeong-yi Yim, director and chief researcher of inbound global health care at the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (Khidi). “There has been an increase year-on-year because Emiratis find Korea to be a friendly environment. Many Korean hospitals prepare to receive Emirati patients so they provide Arabic interpretation and other services like accommodation, transportation, halal meals and prayer rooms.”

The number of Emirati patients is expected to increase over the coming years.

“Korean hospitals deal with difficult cases, usually for cancer, cardiovascular treatment and transplants,” Ms Yim said. “We want to increase our recognition of the Korean medical field and the UAE wants to promote their medical skills in hospitals so it’s a mutually beneficial cooperation.”

Khidi has a branch in Abu Dhabi where it facilitates procedures for Emirati patients and deals with any UAE requests or interest in health care, from pharmaceuticals to medical devices and management of local hospitals.

Hundreds of South Korean health care professionals are employed in a number of hospitals and clinics across Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

“We are expecting to have an agreement with the Dubai Health Authority within a couple of months for a doctor training programme,” she said. “The UAE Armed Forces also want us to dispatch teams of visiting medical doctors to train their doctors in specific skills and we will also have an agreement with the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Police for patient referral and health care professional training.”

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According to Dr Kwang-woong Lee, vice president for Global Planning and Development and executive director of Seoul National University Hospital’s International Healthcare Centre, more Emirati doctors are needed in the UAE.

“I visited the Sheikh Khalifa Speciality Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah more than 10 times, almost on a monthly basis,” he said. “When we made a contract with the Ministry of Presidential Affairs (Mopa), the basic requirement is we need to hire and train Emiratis.”

Of the 815 staff at the hospital, half of the 119 doctors and 85 of the 343 nurses are from SNUH. But only two doctors and one nurse are from the UAE, with most of them working in administration. “It’s not a lot but Emirati patients should be treated by Emirati doctors,” Dr Lee said. “That’s a basic rule. The problem is doctors don’t want to be trained in Ras Al Khaimah as it’s far from Dubai and Abu Dhabi.”

The hospital is on the third of its five-year contract. It hopes to open another branch in main cities in the UAE. “There are five hospitals under Mopa and the one in Ras Al Khaimah is ranked number one in terms of management power and efficiency,” he added said. “That’s why we think we are very good in terms of management and medical services. But it’s time for Emiratis to manage and operate hospitals by themselves, maybe in the near future they will but we need more time.”

Dr Eun Ky Kim, a clinical assistant professor and internal medicine and endocrinology specialist at SNUH in Seoul, is primarily responsible for the hospital's Middle Eastern patients. Up to 90 per cent of them are from the UAE. “We get around 200 to 300 patients every year,” she said. “The most common patients are those who have complicated diseases like renal transplantation and stage four cancer patients. We also have very young patients as SNUH is the only hospital that has a paediatric hospital.”

Her job is to inspect each patient’s full medical history and set up their consultations and treatment. “The cultural difference was challenging but we are trying to learn about UAE culture to make them comfortable,” said Dr Kim, who has been at the hospital’s International Healthcare Centre for three years. “We have many celebrations for different countries so we celebrated UAE National Day for instance. Emirati patients are very nice and in my opinion, we have some kind of similar spirit — although Islamic and Korean traditional cultures are different, Asian and Emirati cultures are both family-based and focused on kindness so we have a similar [foundation] and we can get more familiarised with each other quickly.”

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