Health: better primary care is key to improving Korea’s healthcare system


26/02/2012 - Korea’s healthcare system depends too much on hospitals to treat the ill and not enough on community-based medical practices to keep people healthy, according to OECD’s Health Care Quality Review: Korea.


Since 2002, health spending in Korea has grown at nearly 8% each year, more than double the OECD annual average of 3.6%.  That’s in large part due to an over-reliance on hospitals. Korea has 55 hospitals per million people with 8.3 beds per 1000 people, many more than most OECD countries relative to the size of its population.


Despite a rapid increase in investment, hospitals and new technologies, the OECD’s Health Care Quality Review finds that the Korean health system is not delivering proportionately higher quality care and suggests that better care in the community could both improve health outcomes and reduce the number of hospital visits.


In 2009, there were 127.5 hospital visits per 100,000 people from Koreans suffering from uncontrolled diabetes, more than double the OECD average of 50.3 per 100,000. And once admitted to hospital, Korean patients are likely to remain there more than twice as long as the OECD average of nine days.

With one of the fastest growing elderly populations in the OECD, Korea’s health spending will continue to rise rapidly as it treats more patients living with multiple health problems and poor health due to rising smoking and obesity rates.


Korea’s track record of substantial policy reforms over the past decades have equipped it with a strong base from which to  pursue further reforms. To help the Korean government and health sector focus on keeping people healthy and out of hospital, the report recommends:

  • Building a stronger primary care system by increasing  financial support for preventive healthcare and patient counselling in community-based clinics, and reducing doctors’ reliance on minor surgical procedures and diagnostic tests to support their incomes. 
  • Financially rewarding hospitals according to the appropriatness of their services rather than the number of services they deliver, by adopting Diagnostic-Related-Group based financing across the entire Korean hospitals sector.
  • Making the most of its world-class health information infrastructure to identify and reward those health services that deliver high quality of care and target services to patients who need them most.
  • Expanding current quality of care strategies beyond select institutions to the entire health system including accreditation for all hospitals, upgrading the skills of health professionals and encouraging the use of clinical practice guidelines.

>> For further information, journalists can contact Francesca Colombo (+33 1 45 24 93 60) or Ankit Kumar (+33 1 45 24 83 70) in the OECD’s health division. You can read more at


>> OECD Health Care Quality Review: Korea is the first publication in a new series evaluating the quality of health care across ten OECD countries.


>> OECD Health Care Quality Reviews examine what works and what does not work in countries,  benchmarking the efforts of countries and providing advice on reforms to improve quality of health care.


>> The second report, Quality of Health Care in Israel, will be published later this year, and this series of country reviews will be followed by a final summary report on the lessons learned for good practice policies.


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