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Medical screening often ends up representing status symbols hereKorea's medical culture ④ Health check-up
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2017.03.13 16:41
  • Updated 2017.03.23 18:08
  • comments 1

Koreans can get medical checkups for free thanks to national health insurance service (NHIS) coverage. However, most choose to pay out of pocket for their health screenings. Why do Koreans pay for health check-ups when it’s free?

Some explanation on public health checkups is relevant to explain this practice.

The government provides public-funded health checkups to all citizens to prevent the onset of severe diseases, a characteristic that sets Korean medical care apart from those of other countries.

However, these free screenings are often limited in variety and have rigid guidelines. Koreans can get four different types of health screenings -- general health, mid-life, cancer, and infant health screenings.

General health screenings are held once every two years and can be taken based on one’s year of birth at any authorized hospital. For example, a person born in an odd-numbered year, such as 1991, can get health screenings in an odd-numbered year, such as 2017 or 2019. The testing includes head and neck examinations, chest radiography, blood test, urinalysis, and oral examination.

Because the age and frequency requirements of NHIS screenings are rigid, most Koreans elect for a privatized health screening at large hospitals. Large hospitals charge for a more comprehensive health screening for all ages, including MRI, colonoscopy, and breast cancer screenings among others.

People can choose from many different packages when paying for health screenings and customize their care. Some hospitals, such as Seoul University or Yonsei University hospitals, have separate clinics that only perform health check-ups. Yonsei, for example, operates an independent health screening clinic called “Severance Check-up” that conduct “basic” (around 630,000 won or $550), “premium” (around 2,000,000 won or $1,745) and even “platinum” check-ups (around 3,700,000 won or $3,228), among others. People can also elect to add special examinations to the package.

A Severance employee guides a customer through the health check-up (Yonsei Severance Check-Up website)

Privatized health screenings are often more luxurious. Privatized health screening facilities are better equipped – some are known to have massage chairs, fancy interior decorations, and restaurants. Employees personally guide each customer through the process, whereas public health checkups operate like an ordinary hospital. Some medical screening facilities also provide food and drinks for its clients. People find more leeway in the services and quality of care that they select.

Korea’s privatized health screenings are world-famous. Foreigners come to Korea to get a comprehensive, affordable and high-quality medical service from all around the world.

Aside from improved range and quality, these out-of-pocket health screenings are also symbolic. These health screenings indicate social class, and those who can afford them gift their parents privatized health checkups to show they care and to fulfill filial duties.

Regardless of which type of health screening one elects, Korea is a step ahead when it comes to preventive health. The benefits are numerous for all parties involved. Doctors catch diseases early on, saving lives and medical fees in the process.


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  • lixherry3@gmail.com 2018-04-03 19:20:25

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