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A bilingual systematic review of South Korean medical tourism: a need to rethink policy and priorities for public health?



In 2016, the "Act on Support for Overseas Expansion of Healthcare System and Attraction of International Patients" was enacted by the South Korean government in an attempt to accelerate growth of its medical tourism industry. However, only a few years after its implementation, the benefits are not well understood, nor have the positive or negative impacts of expanding Korea's medical tourism sector been properly evaluated.


We aimed to systematically review and summarize existing literature describing South Korea's medical tourism policy and legislative history, while also assessing the impact of this domestic policy approach on the country's public health systems.


A bilingual systematic literature review was conducted per PRISMA guidelines for all South Korean medical tourism legislative and policy literature using MeSH terms and other related keywords in two academic databases, PubMed and JSTOR. Published studies were included if they directly addressed South Korean medical tourism policy. To supplement results from the peer-review, the grey literature was also searched using Google search engine for relevant policy documents, information from government websites, and national statistics on medical tourism-related data.


This review included 14 peer-reviewed journal articles and 9 websites. The majority of literature focused on the legislative history of South Korea's pro-medical tourism policy, economic considerations associated with industry growth, and the specific experiences of medical tourists. There was a lack of studies, analytical or commentary-based, conducting in-depth analysis of the healthcare impact of these policies or comparing benefits and costs compared to other medical tourism destinations. Proponents of medical tourism continue to advocate the government for increased deregulation and investment in the sector.


This systematic review suggests that policy decisions may prioritize economic growth offered by medical tourism over negative effects on the healthcare workforce, access and equity, and its potential to undermine Universal Health Coverage. South Korea continues to examine ways to further amend the Act and grow this sector, but these actions should be taken with caution by critically examining how other countries have adapted their policymaking based on the real-world costs associated with medical tourism.

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