I’ve been back to Korea dozens of times over the years and have pretty much checked off everything on my bucket list. However this fall, on my list for the first time was the Korean comprehensive health check-up. I was a bit nervous about it, but it ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever done there.
The half-day health screening program available in Korea is a game changer. For a bit of background, Korea has one of the best healthcare systems in the world and consistently ranks higher than the US in life expectancy. Unlike the United States where the system is focused on treating existing conditions, the Korean healthcare system depends on preventative medicine and maintaining general well-being to keep the cost of healthcare low for the entire population. This commitment is reflected in Korea’s National Health Screening Program (NHSP) which allows Koreans to receive a regular comprehensive health check-up (CHC).
Revolutionizing the world of preventive medicine with this one-day program, the Korean system is state-of-the-art, efficient and affordable. In stark contrast to extremely expensive and inefficient healthcare testing in the United States, CHCs amazingly typically take only 3-4 hours and cost a small fraction of what a similar battery of tests would cost in the US. That is, if you are lucky enough to convince your American doctor to allow such a comprehensive exam.
What’s Included in a Comprehensive Health Check-up?
CHCs are designed to assess an individual’s general health and provide early diagnoses of diseases, including: cancer, cerebrovascular disease and heart disease, the leading causes of death in Korea, to help ensure better outcomes. CHCs consist of a multitude of medical tests to assess the major organs and key body functions, such as:
- Comprehensive blood, urine, and stool tests, including checks for tumor-markers
- Advanced medical imaging like MRIs, PET-CTs, and MRAs
- Ultrasounds to check for internal anomalies
- Endoscopy / Colonoscopy
- Heart and lung screenings including ECG
- Body composition tests
- Cognitive function tests
Sound amazing? I thought so too. Comprehensive health check-ups are available at most major hospitals and also at specialty clinics focused on providing CHCs. Best of all, these CHCs are available to foreigners, making Korea a top destination for medical tourism where foreigners can obtain first-class preventative care.
I scheduled my comprehensive health check-up with Hanaro Leaders Healthcare, a specialty clinic that only provides CHCs. As of this writing, the English version of the website is under construction but you can have your browser translate the page to English. I chose Leaders because they cater to English-speaking clients, are a well-known provider with recognizable corporate partners such as Google, and are easily accessible in Gangnam.
I emailed Leaders and communicated with Ms. Jiyun who explained the process to me in fluent English. She informed me that there are three packages to choose from — I chose Package C because it was the most comprehensive. I also had the option to add on additional procedures to each package for an additional fee. She helped me select the package and optional procedures that best suited my needs and scheduled me for an appointment for two weeks later.
I chose Package C, which includes all of the below tests, and I also selected add-on tests for an additional fee. The Package C price of KRW 600,000 is equivalent to about $460 at the time of writing of this article. This is the friends and family pricing and their regular pricing is slightly higher.
A Walk Through of the Comprehensive Health Check-up Process
I was nervous when I arrived at Leaders at 8:30am (appointment times vary from morning to early afternoon). Ms. Jiyun helped check me in and explained the testing process step-by-step. She then directed me to the locker room where I locked up my personal belongings and changed into what I’ll call my exam PJs, which consisted of a loose cotton top and pants that were warm and comfortable – very similar to regular pajamas. I also received a “watch” with scanning technology that I wore on my wrist.
Ms. Jiyun guided me to the first test station where I scanned this watch against a panel next to the testing room door, which alerted the technician that I was waiting and electronically delivered my details to them. When the technician called my name I entered the private testing room, received my test and was directed to the next testing station where the process repeated. There were color coded signs and directions throughout the facility, making it easy for me to journey from one station to the next.
Even though the facility was busy, I breezed from station to station because the process has been fine-tuned to be incredibly easy and efficient, and my nervousness quickly faded. A few hours later, I arrived at my last station where I was sedated for my endoscopy and colonoscopy. Before I knew it, I was eating complimentary pumpkin porridge by 2pm, feeling very fortunate to have had the opportunity to receive such incredible care, and all for only about $500.
Two weeks later, Leaders emailed me a report of approximately twenty pages that details my results in Korean with an English translation. The first couple pages consist of a summary of the results and recommendations for next steps while the remainder of the report provides detailed results of each test. Leaders only provides CHCs and does not provide medical treatment, so I have to follow-up with my regular doctors. However, they provide the option of a consultation with a Leaders physician about the results. Upon request, Leaders will provide the images that were taken (x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, etc.) so you can share them with your physician.
My time is precious in Korea and I hate medical testing so I was initially reluctant to get a CHC but I’m so glad I did. I learned a lot about the condition of my body and my risk factors. For example, I feared I was at higher risk of heart disease because of my love of fatty food, but I learned my arteries are very healthy! However, I’m at a higher risk of certain cancers, so I know to get regular screening and avoid activities that increase this risk. This new vital information about my health I’m now empowered with and the accompanying peace of mind is well worth the time and cost.
Several of my friends traveling with me received CHCs from other providers and they were all as impressed as I was. The best-known hospitals that offer a CHC are: Samsung Medical Center, Asan Medical Center, and Seoul National University Hospital. These large facilities offer excellent programs that are more expensive than the clinic I chose with costs starting at about $1,500 for the basic exams. But, they offer the added benefit of being able to provide treatment if the CHC reveals any concerns. Regardless of the provider, all of these costs are still a small fraction of what it would cost back home, which to my best estimation would be well over $10,000. I plan to obtain CHCs regularly in the future and encourage everyone to find a provider they are comfortable with and schedule a CHC during their next visit to Korea.