Your comment changes Korea! Comment below and Get Starbucks E-Gift Card!

Hello, my Facebook friends and new comers to my blog! I am Jane Jang, who posted lots of MERS outbreak related news for expat friends in Korea. smiley

I thanked you all who encouraged me so much. heart As MERS Outbreak spreads, I realized that there are many complaints on Korean Government or medical system spoken by both Koreans and expats in Korea. As a Korean who works in medical field here, I think I need you guys' idea to help make things better for everyone's safety and health. So, I would like to open this posting and received your opinion.

Please comment your opinion to any of these questions. It's going to be really appreciated if you could tell me where you are from.  yes

  • What's the biggest different medical culture between S.Korea and your country?
  • What's your first action to take when you need to see a doctor in Korea?
  • What's your source to get the most credible medical info. in Korea?
  • Have you ever experienced bad medical service in Korea? If so, could you please share it with us?
  • What's the weakness of Korean medical system or medical staff?

After commenting, don't forget to send me your "name & cell phone number" or "name & email address" so that I can send you this heartStarbucks E-Gift card (10,000KRW) heartto you! I will randomly pick up 3 people. Email:


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It seems like we are doing an Online 'Non-Summit' program being aired on JTBC. Hahaha smiley

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Hope there will be lots of ideas shared! Your comments change Korea better for everyone. Once again! after commenting, don't forget to send me your "name & cell phone number" or "name & email address" 

Responses 26

What's the biggest different medical culture between S.Korea and your country? Doctor-client privacy, cleanliness of hospitals, time spent with the doctors
What's your first action to take when you need to see a doctor in Korea? See a general practitioner
What's your source to get the most credible medical info. in Korea? Facebook and my husband
Have you ever experienced bad medical service in Korea? YES. Judgement by gynecologists who assumed things that weren't true, rudeness of doctors/staff, not getting correctly diagnosed due to the doctor not taking enough time to find out the pertinent information
What's the weak point of Korean medical system or medical staffs? Not allowing enough time for proper diagnosis, or pushing unnecessary tests/procedures.

admin's picture

Hi, Jayleen. Thank you for your prompt response! your opinion is so helpful for me to capture how Korean medical industry develops better. Thank you again for your time! Keep in touch! Jane

I think the biggest shock for me was rooms with 8 people and as i was having a leg injury like the others in my room many had a helper which added up to 15 people in a tiny space. This made it impossible to recover. There is always people talking during the night and the day. Also there is zero intimacy during doctors visits. People were watching while i was in pain getting bandages changed. Also contagious illnesses can spread easily.
one thing that i noticed for me. When people explain medical procedures/surgeries they would talk to my husband or my korean friend (even though my korean is quite decent) i think if the doctors would talk to the actual patient and then wait for the korean person to translate that would make me personally feel more included in the process amd more comfortable . If they just talk to my husband i feel like a little kid and as if they are deciding over my head (not sure u can use this expression in English )
Sorry thats a lot of writing. Thank you for your effort

admin's picture

Maria! You never need to be sorry for your long writing! Your experience was the exact same thing that Koreans do but they are just so used to that kind of packed ward and tiny room for long time. So no one really think sharing rooms are the big matter. I think it is all about the medical expenses. You must pay more and more if you like a single bed room in the ward. Again, than you for your time and real life experience! Jane

The worst point about Medical service in Korea is the very small percentage of medical staffs who can use English . As an expat, this has been the biggest problem for me as I am not able to clearly explain what is happening to me or understand what the doctors are telling me to do. This makes us very reliant on other people who can speak Korean and will translate things for us. At such I cannot visit the doctor when I need as I have to wait for the other person to accompany me. This has happened to me several times during my stay here and is still a problem as I am a person who falls sick very often.

admin's picture

Thank you for your comment! Yes, you are so right. there is shortness of manpower in the most of clinics and hospitals for expat. Also, it is not easy to find a good translator for a medical terminology. That causes inconvenience whenever you are off to a clinic. Therefore, I am thinking how to fix this. Any suggestion?

1. I haven't experienced this first hand, but the fact that the hospitals are not full-service. So when you have to stay in a hospital for a period of time because of surgeries or something else, the nurses don't provide the same level of care to patients that they do in Western countries. Families are expected to care for their relatives themselves, even in the hospitals. Also, it is really different when you go to a hospital to get some treatment and have to speak with someone at the front desk first. The staff members then tell you where to go to see the appropriate doctor. There isn't really one doctor you see every time you go to the hospital or doctor's office like there is in Western countries.
2. When I need some sort of medical attention, I usually go to the doctor at the hospital. I just walk in without an appointment and get seen by someone. If I have general questions, I also speak to the pharmacist who works next door to the hospital because I found out that he speaks really good English and can explain things to me better than some of the doctors.
3. Facebook posts are the most immediate when I want to hear about medical things going on in Korea. There are tons of facebook groups to help foreigners figure out what's going on. I wish there were more official sources of information from Korea in English.
4. In my own personal experience, the weakest part of the Korean medical system is the over prescription of medication, especially antibiotics, as well as the pressure you sometimes feel to get seemingly unnecessary medical testing. You can create immunity to some antibiotics in people who are given too much to take, so that can be really dangerous. Also, I have a lot of trouble with the medicines being given out in small packages instead of labelled bottles. Although the doctors sometimes explain how to take the medicines, no one really tells you the name of medication, so you don't have a real understanding of what's going into your body.

admin's picture

Hi, thank you so much for your comment. I found interesting that you ask a pharmacist in neighborhood! Haha I guess you are a friendly person. It is quite surprising that you mostly get medical advice from Facebook communities but still many expat need official information on medical service or others. Thank you for your honest experience and wish! :D

What's the biggest different medical culture between S.Korea and your country? In the UK healthcare is free at the point of entry but you have to wait a long time to see a doctor or even a nurse. Korean healthcare is much faster

admin's picture

Hi, Michael. Yes, I know UK has a really great system called 'National Healthcare System' Definitely I've heard of it! :D Thanks for your comment!

1.) What's the biggest different medical culture between S.Korea and your country?

The biggest difference to me is attentiveness and time. I often feel like I'm in a factory here, being rotated in and out in the fasted time possible. It's as if I'm on an assembly line. They don't really listen to your issues, but they poke and prod you and send you onto tests regardless. I know that one of the biggest annoyances for Western doctors is that patients come in thinking they know all the right information (from looking at WebMD or something similar) but Korean doctors really do need to learn to stop and listen to their patience more/better.

Professionalism is another point. Protocol and standards are also very minimal. There's a lot of rule-breaking or cutting corners in order to see as many patients as possible. Back home, procedures are strictly followed and everyone is educated about them. But here, I see doctors and nurses being very blase' things they should be very careful about, such as privacy and handling of materials. I think this is one of the main reasons MERS broke out as much as it did. I think this also applies to other areas in Korea other than the medical field. Koreans want to be efficient but due to that, quality is lost along the way.

Sharing of information with the patient-- Doctors I've seen usually just state things and give me my prescription and have me go on my way. They don't tell me the hows and whys. Also, i really HATE how medicine is dispensed here. I want my medication CLEARLY MARKED with the name (brand or generic), dosage, amount to take, and expiration, and other important info. I want them to come in bottles or containers and not in individual wraps because it's too bulky and wasteful. I can take my own dosage without it being wrapped for me. If I have a chronic condition that requires meds continuously, I would like to just get that medication at the pharmacy without having to see the doctor again.

2.) What's your first action to take when you need to see a doctor in Korea?

I try to get as much information I can about whatever is happening to me before I go see a doctor so I often research online. Then I talk to my friends who are doctors (back in the States). Then I talk to my uncle, who is a doctor here in Korea (but was educated abroad). I want to go in knowing as much as possible so I can be ready with any questions.

3.) What's your source to get the most credible medical info. in Korea?

I look up a lot of things online then I ask my friends and family who are in the medical field. The last person I get medical info from is my actual doctor. I never read Korean articles on medicine or disease. I can't trust them.

4.) Have you ever experienced bad medical service in Korea?

Yes.I have had instruments being stuck in my nose or ears (or other places) without anyone telling me it's going to happen (and I can even speak and understand Korean so there is no reason they can't tell me). I've had nurses stick a thermometer (I assume) in my ear while the doctor was still talking to me. I was so shocked because there was no warning. She came from behind me. I jumped because I was so surprised. She could have busted my eardrum. One doctor pushed a long instrument through to my sinuses and it was one of the most painful things I've experienced. He didn't tell me what he was doing or why, and he didn't even tell me THAT he was going to do it. He just approached me, pushed one up my nose, and started suctioning. After several minutes of torture, he said to me, in Korean "Oh, you endured that quite well." Really?

5.) What's the weak point of Korean medical system or medical staff?

This is a big one -- I know it's not true for all medical staff but most I've met seem to have a mix of modern medical training but are still hanging onto some superstitious beliefs about people and pathology. You can't have both. I realize this has a lot to do with culture and that Korea was only industrialized recently (past 60-70 years) so it's hard to let go of cultural biases or shamanistic roots that quickly. But I feel that HARD SCIENCE is not really taken seriously by medical staff here in general. This seems more true for nurses than doctors but still, there shouldn't be any difference between them when it comes to concrete science. Fear comes from ignorance and there's still a lot of that going around in the younger, more educated generation. It's a strange combination of modern and archaic beliefs.

Thanks for inquiring about this and taking the time to read it. I feel really glad that there is concern in the Korean medical community and that it is open to the comments of others. I know this may seem overly harsh but they are my opinions and experiences. There are obviously good things about healthcare in Korea. Being from America, I am grateful for the national healthcare in Korea being so affordable.


admin's picture

Hi, Jen. Wow your comment is really really interesting to me and I laughed so hard reading answer 4). Actually, that was not a funny or pleasant experience but made me imagine that exact situation you were in! Also, about your comment to 5), that was quite new to me but still I agree to your opinion that some Korean nurses /doctors are somewhat relying on traditional measurement or superstition. Your comment was so worth as it made me think further! Keep in touch and hope we can discuss it more! Jane

1) Hygiene. I see so many rusty beds, drip poles, lack of hand washing between patients, nurses that do the bare minimum not really nurses but medicine distributors.
2) One of the first actions is to see which doctor/medical facility other foreigners recommend.
3) Usually facebook or other foreigners, as I have found that Koreans do not like admitting something is wrong or they have not followed procedure, or that they actually look bad by not doing something they should have.
4)Yes. I have high blood pressure and am on medication, my usual doctor was away so saw a different one, who halved my dosage, I ended up in hospital my blood pressure was extremely high and caused some damage to my heart. This same doctor tried to force me to take medication I didnt want nor need.
5)The weak point is while the health care is extremely fast, they don't slow down and explain what each medication is for, possible side effects, and dosage.

admin's picture

Hi, Sharron. I feel so sorry about your bad experience on that blood pressure medicine! I am sure that is a pretty bad bad experience. I know that most of the hospitals outside Seoul still use rusted bed and their facility is not that as advanced as we expect. Thank you for your comment but I didn't get your any contact info, please email me, if you are interested in the Starbucks e-gift card!

Re: difference in med care here vs. my country (USA). Ten days after a knee surgery, son ran 104 F (40C) fever. Rather than check for cause of fever (pnuemonia secondary to anesthesia OR UTI secondary to catheter OR wound infection) the doctor just prescribed two high-powered, broad-spectrum antibiotics. Never listened to his chest or did CXR; and though they aspirated his knee, never did a culture and sensitivity on the aspirate. Just prescribed enough meds to cover "everything". I experienced something similar when I went to see a dermatologist for a rash on my foot. The doctor prescribed medication ("strong" antifungal) although they did not do a simple "scraping sample" to determine if that was the cause. I chose to not fill FOUR prescriptions and receive the injection the doctor recommended, rather went to Severance Hospital dermatology. They did the quick scraping; look under the microscope, determined it was not fungal...just excema. So I avoided taking a lot of unnecessary meds. People say that docs in USA order too many tests; but here, I think the doctor may skip the tests and just prescribe (?overprescribe) antibiotics to take care of any possible cause. Because of concerns of antibiotic-resistant germs, (and possible side-effects of meds), I would rather have a test done to determine the exact cause and only treat that. Doctors here often give prescriptions but less often explain what medications they are giving and what they are for; compared to the USA.

Other major difference is of course, length of hospital stay. In USA, so many things (like son's ligament repair) are done as outpatient surgery. Only people who are VERY sick stay more than one day at the hospital.

Of course, medical care is relatively inexpensive here, so a longer hospital stay can be a good thing--and doesn't bankrupt the patient. Absolutely not saying it is bad--just it is different.

In USA would see a "General Practitioner/Family Doctor" as the first step; here, the patient decides if they want to see internist, endocrinologist, dermatologist, etc. etc. rather than the Family Doctor.

Source of credible info? Internet, International Clinic, and Jane Jang's blog! ^^ :)

admin's picture

Hi, Karen. Thank you so much for your supportive response! Haha yea, I will try so hard to post useful and credible medical info for you! I think most of the local clinics don't have adequate exam facility so that they just prescribe some strong medicine... That really happens to my dad's case. It ended up that his dermatological problem got worse due to the side effects of the strong ointment... ;( Btw, I didn't get your contact info. Please email me if you are interested in the Starbucks e-gift card! Thank, Jane

What's the biggest different medical culture between S.Korea and your country?
I think that the biggest differences for me are as follows: Nurses as a whole have A LOT more patients to care fore in Korea than in America. It is almost impossible for each nurse to attend to each patient on a more personal level than taking only vital signs. My husband has said that this is a big problem in Korea. He is a nurse, and my sister is a nurse. Another thing is that the utensils used in hospitals here are more often than not stainless steel and must be rewashed for the next use; however, sterilization is not a big thing in relation to this. In The States, we have a lot of one time use items as well as disposable items that eliminate cross-contamination. I often see nurses here not wearing gloves. When my temperature is taken with the ear thermometer, no one changes the plastic cap. More money is spent on healthcare at home, and at first I thought that was a bad thing, but if cutting costs means that we also cut sterilization here, I am against that. Also, doctors are an authority figure here, so if I have a question, he or she doesn't want to explain my health issue in depth. I should just take their word and listen to them because they are a doctor. At home, we have consultations where we are open to ask questions and possibly make suggestions.
What's your first action to take when you need to see a doctor in Korea?
I go to the local clinic near my house. I often use the Oriental clinic as well. If it is a more specialized issue, I go to a specialist.
What's your source to get the most credible medical info. in Korea?
My husband gives me credible information as he is in the nursing field. I also have a lot of friends that I ask as well as my mother-in-law.
Have you ever experienced bad medical service in Korea?
One time, a doctor insisted that I wear a cast on a foot. I had only sprained my ankle, so I thought he was over-medicating in that instance. I went back the next year because I had another sprained ankle, and the treatment I received did not help. After going to an Oriental doctor, I felt much better. One time, I was rejected help by a prominent women's hospital here in Daejeon, and they laughed at me when I complained of severe pain. I felt humiliated.
What's the weak point of Korean medical system or medical staff?
I think that there are too many patients per nurse and per staff. Treatment in Korea is waaaay more impersonal than back at home. Also, I think that doctors and nurses should lead by example and follow protocol in regards to the spreading of germs. Many nurses in clinics do not wash their hands in front of me when they are about to check my health issue. Also, the hospital rooms are too overcrowded. This leads to further spreading of germs. If someone has a contagious disease, virus or infection, it can spread more quickly. So, I feel that proper quarantining should be in practice as it is really isn't something that happens here. As a whole, the medical community is not making more of a concerted effort to educate the population at large about many health risks and how to avoid them. Back in The States, we have a lot of literature distributed to schools as well as a lot of pamphlets available and lots of ways to get information. It seems to be rather difficult here.
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admin's picture

Hi, Ann. Thank you so much for your detailed description on what you experienced so far in Korea. As you already noticed, cutting cost is a big underlying matter here but it seems like that Korean politicians are not responding to that matter. Again, thanks for your sincere comment hope we discuss further! Please email me if you are interested in the Starbucks e-gift. :D Jane

Biggest cultural difference? The personal relationship with your doctor and the doctors willingness to listen. In the U.S. I expect my doctor to be kind, respectful, private and open. Here I experienced kindness but not really respect for the patients needs and wants. What the doctor says is the final word even if it is wrong or not supported by up to date medical evidence. Doctors are in a hurry and don't seem truly concerned with listening and answering questions.

Here I can go to the doctor quickly, easily and for very little cost!! Unlike the states where I really have to decide if I can even afford to go and the see if maybe I can get an appointment. Also, I could never go directlu to a specialist like an ENT without a referral from a family practicioner.

The only credible source I use in Korea is the World Health Organzation's homepage. I also look for trained professionals like a doula or nurse from home. I rely heavily on other sources like Facebook expat groups, personal reccomendations, blogs and International centers.

First I will say I have received a lot of excellent care in Korea! However, when I have received bad care it has been tramatic for me! We decided to have our first child in Korea due to the low cost. Overall prenatal care was good! Actual labor and birthing practices are way behind in Korea! Much of the developed world has followed up to date studies and really listen to the women. In the delivery room here it is expected that a woman will do what she is told and not question the doctor. The cesearan rate is extremely high! The standard practices of enemas, shaving and episiotimies are no longer recommended by the WHO as evidence does not show great benefit. Pushing while one your back is the most difficult for the women yet it is the position women are forced to take including myself. I was subject to vaginal exams which I had declined. I refused an IV as it was not neccessary but they also wanted to deny me water, which I overruled without their knowledge. I had to scream at the doctor to refuse rhe standard episitomy which I had clearly discussed in advance that I did not want. He got very upset and threatened not to suture me if I tore. He also delivered my placenta by pullimg on the cord and roughly pushing on my abdomen withput explaining before starting. I had requested in advance to deliver it natural but he was in a hurry and still angry. Then is swabbed my uterus with a sponge at the end of enormous tongs again without permission or warning. When he did a quick ultrasound to check for placenta he didnt clean off the jelly and walked out of the delivery room as his job was done. Zero respect and bedside manner!

Additionally our little one suffered from jaundice common and curable. She was admitted to the hospital on a Monday and I was not allowed to touch her again until Friday. Visiting was Monday, Wednesday, Friday through a window for no more than 5 minutes. I was denied access even to breastfeed. They over fed her and would not give me any updates. A newborn requires lots of touch to grow and recover quickly. The WHO highly recommends kangaroo care which is extremely uncommon in Korea. Even the practice of seperating mom and baby after birth in my opinion is barbaric. Thankful the delivery hospital accomodated our baby room-in request.

The biggest weaknesses are understaffing and poor hygiene! During a three day hospital stay at the beginning of June I never saw any nurse or doctor use gloves or clean the thermometer between patients!!! If you wonder why MERS spread quickly the answer is obvious! Lack of basic hygiene procedures! Even when they drew blood samples and inserted IVs!! No gloves! There was no soap or paper towels in our double room shared bath. The bathroom was never cleaned. We were placed in the same room ad a girl with an infectious disease while my daughters was not contagious. Also there were not enough nurses. In the U.S. nurses are vital to the health profession. They are well trained and respected. Their jobs are hard but they are highly respected and have a lot of resposibility. With additional training they cam perform many of the same tasks as a doctor but must in the end report to a doctor. Korea needs to improve the working conditions, number of and respect for nurses.

admin's picture

Hi, Amber, I thoroughly read your comment and was pretty shocked by your baby laboring experience in Korea! It just sounded so awful to me. I am so sorry for your experience. Also, the hygiene matter must be improved of course and that alerts a lot to me about the basic rules in the medical field and even in our life. Again, thanks for your comment hope we discuss further! Jane

Well, i would have to say that because going to the doctor is much cheaper in Korea, the service is similar to fast food. They tey to get you in and out as fast as possible to get tge next patient in, even when the office is not busy.
They tend to over prescribe pills which has been my biggest issue. I would rather eat some garlic and ginseng than be given 5 pills for having a cold. Seems that they are over doing it on the pills.
However 90% of the staff is always very kind. I have started visiting the acupuncturist lately instead of the western medical services, because they don't prescribe pills!

admin's picture

Hi, Josh. Thanks for your easy metaphorical explanation! The acupuncturist! That really works when it comes to preventing common cold or treating muscle sores! :D

What's the biggest different medical culture between S.Korea and your country? Some of the bigger differences that i have noticed is the willingness for Koreans to shop around at doctor offices. Even if it is a common cold. I Find in the US yes you go and visit another doctor maybe a week later if you aren't getting well, but i have had some coworkers go to 2-3 clinics or hospitals the same day. Also hygiene seems to be a big concern for me. I learned when i first got here that not everyone uses gloves or wash their hands before and after touching patients, I have asked about this and have heard different responses but most have been because they think it would insult their patient and make them thing they do not want to touch them. From my culture this is a very big no no and a big way to spread sickness. I also have a problem when i visit doctors who barely come out from behind their desk. They just ask you questions and diagnose you from what you have told them.

What's your first action to take when you need to see a doctor in Korea? I usually researched before i found my doctor. The most frustrating thing is if you can not speak Korean at all. When you are sick you want to be understood and have just an easy process of getting in and out.

What's your source to get the most credible medical info. in Korea? It's not 100% credible but word of mouth seems to be the biggest. As well as the clinic or doctors website. Sometimes word of mouth can be bias but in all i think it is a good place to start.

Have you ever experienced bad medical service in Korea? If so, could you please share it with us? I have the time the doctor gave me medicine i was allergic too. No matter how much i told him. I am ALLERGIC to this. He didn't seem to listen or just though i didn't know what i was talking about. I made sure to stress to him 2 times that i can't take this and to please look it up in Korean is he was unsure or what it was in English. But he assured me he knew exactly what it was. HE DIDN'T! I ended up having to go into the hospital for 2 days due to this mistake by him. I was so furious but as a foreigner there isn't very much we can do about this.

What's the weakness of Korean medical system or medical staff? I think one of the biggest weakness i have had is the lack of privacy and dialog. I feel that a lot of Korean medical system is just a turn around service give you a diagnosis and send you out the door. They don't really listen to their patients, or talk with them. I have to ask all the questions and i feel like they are getting upset with having to answer them such as: should i drink warm or cold water, should i stay home from work, am i contagious, should i have a follow up appointment. Also I have had doctors give my a diagnosis in the middle of reception. I was mortified. Another big thing i have a pet peeve with is over medicating. You have to take 4-6 pills at a time and most are just antibiotics, vitamins, and random other stuff to help with the side effects of the other pills. I personally want to know about the medication i am taking. Yet i am almost never told, or told to ask the pharmacist who speaks 0% English.

In all i do really like the Korean medical system because it is very affordable, yet i think it does have problems, specially with trying to offer services to foreigners

admin's picture

Good afternoon Kalama! You are one of our biggest fans ever! Thank you so much for your comment and experience! :D I am so sorry about your allergy and the doctor's fault. It was absolutely shocking to you! Also, the lack of communication skills is one of the worst things, right? Your comment will be so much evidence to change medical culture ever. Thank you for your time and hope we keep in touch! You are such an active fan of KMH. :D Jane

What's the biggest different medical culture between S.Korea and your country?
C: Nothing in particular. It's somehow Same Same but different.
What's your first action to take when you need to see a doctor in Korea?
C: I was looking for recommendation and also language feasibility to facilitate me when looking for a doctor. Also I was checking on cost. Always better to know how much it will set me back for.
What's your source to get the most credible medical info. in Korea?
C: kmhglobal was my first choice.
Have you ever experienced bad medical service in Korea? If so, could you please share it with us?
C: Not yet, so far everyone seems helpful
What's the weakness of Korean medical system or medical staff?
C: perhaps on languages. But they were super helpful and tried to understand me.
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Why are they selling ANYTHING? Is it not the law that 3% of the TARP money MUST go to &qc;&oArtistiutquot; purposes? There can only be one answer: OBAMA HATES CAVALRY!