It’s something many of us have known for a while, but recently-released statistics have confirmed that South Korea has the highest rate of cosmetic procedures than any other country in the world. This stands at more than 13 procedures for every 1000 people (compared with 9.9 per 1000 in the US), and a total of 649938 procedures carried out in 2011.
What came as somewhat of a surprise to me, however, is that the majority of these procedures are being carried out on medical tourists; an industry which is valued as a national asset, earning 487 billion Won ($453 million US) in 2012.
According to an article published by Bloomberg News, South Korean clinics provide a number of services for visitors, including hotel accommodation and video consultations, with the average trip costing $14000.
A study examining cosmetic surgery tourism, and carried out in the UK earlier this year, found that while many of the patients who elected to travel abroad to other European countries for (usually cut-price) surgery were happy with the results, there was a ‘complication rate’ of 16.5%, with 9% of patients needing assistance from the UK National Health Service (NHS) on their return home.
While it has been difficult to find any solid statistics of complication rates with cosmetic surgery tourism in South Korea, there is anecdotal evidence of complications, revisions and depression as negative consequences. Despite this, the Gangnam area of Seoul is thriving, with many from Vietnam, Singapore and other neighbouring countries flocking to the ‘luxurious’ district. Walk-ins count for many of the procedures carried out, and a surprising amount of consultations are carried out via email.
It is certainly exciting to see the industry thriving — the South Korean government hopes to attract 500,000 medical tourists to the country by 2017, up from 203,063 in 2012, of which 7.6% visited for plastic surgery — but it is a concern that some of those patients choosing to travel abroad for surgery are not having proper face-to-face consultations, but relying on the emailing of photography and suggested ‘corrections’.
South Korea has courted controversy on a worldwide scale this year, through treatments such as double-jaw surgery and the ‘Smile Lipt’, but to maintain its success in the aesthetic industry, it is paramount to keep things ‘above board’ for those travelling abroad for treatments as much as possible.