NUR-SULTAN – Young Kazakh businesspeople have launched a medical tourism company in South Korea which provides free consultation services for patients from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and strengthens cooperation between Kazakh and South Korean medical centres.
“Two years ago, we became the first foreign startup in Hanyang University… There is no such tandem anywhere else. We work with different clinics in different directions,” said KazMediKor (KMK) CEO Zhanadil Taldybayev in an exclusive interview for this story.
KMK is led by Taldybayev, CIO Kakim Danabayev and CAO Kim Seula. The start-up was among the 30 best two years ago of those accepted annually by Hanyang University’s Startup Lounge, which recognised the project as the most successful startup team in 2019. One of the unique aspects is it is both a Kazakh and South Korean company and has offices in Almaty and Seoul with Kazakh and Korean staff members.
The company’s main goal is to offer the opportunity for Russian-speaking patients to contact South Korean clinics directly, thus reducing the cost of treatment. It provides advisory services for patients to assist them in finding suitable clinics for treatment, hotel booking services, translation services, airport shuttles to the hospital or hotel and a modem router with complimentary unlimited Internet. All services are free for patients from CIS countries.
“Many people think that we have a fee for our services and they go to other intermediary agencies where they overpay. Our services are free, useful and convenient,” he added.
The enterprise is currently working on a web platform, which can be used both by patients and clinics. Patients can contact clinics directly and doctors are able to immediately answer their questions by e-mail and monitor the entire process through the platform. The website provides an online consultant available 24 hours a day and includes a news blog about South Korean medicine where people find information about new treatment methods and other useful health and medicine information.
Each South Korean clinic has its own Russian-speaking guide who can answer inquiries and facilitate communication between doctors and patients.
“Each major hospital has a Russian-speaking specialist. This is now a must because of the large number of Russian-speaking patients,” said Taldybayev. “This applies not only to simple hospitals, but also to plastic surgery clinics. Even in a small plastic surgery clinic there is a Russian-speaking coordinator.”
More than 40,000 patients from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Uzbekistan go to South Korea each year for treatment, he noted. Approximately 15,000 Kazakhs travel to the country annually to obtain medical services.
“Approximately 25,000 Kazakh people come to South Korea annually as tourists. Of these, more than 50 percent receive either a medical check-up or other medical services. Korea is now a country of advanced medicine,” he added.
Five-six patients per month used the company services in 2018; last year, the number increased to 15-20 individuals.
“Our goal is to provide our services to all patients who want to come to Korea,” said Taldybayev.
KMK is also seeking to provide training for Kazakh doctors in South Korea.
“Previously, you always had to do an internship in America to become a doctor in Korea. Now this is no longer necessary, because Korea is a leading country in the field of medicine. In Kazakhstan, we do not have this practice, but I think it will be implemented soon,” said Taldybayev.
Privatising Kazakh clinics will result in the need to send doctors abroad for the centres to stay competitive in the market and have highly qualified personnel.
“We think that they (doctors) will go to Korea. It is the most affordable, the closest of all possible countries and, of course, medicine is very developed there,” he added.
The company leaders collaborate directly with South Korea hospitals. Hanyang University Seoul Hospital, Naeun Hospital and Nazareth Hospital, its strategic partners, have provided financial investment and offer free programmes for Kazakh doctors.
Last year, Naeun Hospital provided a one-month internship grant for a Kazakh neurosurgeon. KMK interviewed candidates and selected the best individual, whose training programme, accommodations and meals were fully covered by the hospital.
The business is also aiming to provide South Korean medical facilities to Kazakhstan. Working with local entrepreneur Kairat Kudaibergen, KMK plans to open a branch of Oracle Clinic in Almaty in late February or early March. Oracle Medical Group, which has a network of 48 domestic and 22 overseas clinics, also produces cosmetics and medical equipment.
The company is seeking to open three additional clinics in Kazakhstan in the next three years. It is currently working on registering Oracle medical equipment to distribute in the country.
“In Korea, their products are considered one of the top. The network of clinics is considered the largest in Korea. Their equipment was recognised as one of the most successful in South Korea, because it is not too expensive for the Korean market and the quality is great,” said Taldybayev.
KMK also collaborates with South Korean government agencies, which provide support for its activities. Last year, the company received $100,000 for development from the Ministry of Small and Medium Business and Startups.
“The ministry reviewed our project and understood that our company promotes tourism in South Korea in Central Asia and therefore, our company remains one of the most promising,” he said.
The firm also collaborates with the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Kazakh Embassy in South Korea. Recently, it began working with the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Immigration Service.
In partnership with The Korea Foundation, a non-commercial organisation that promotes international cooperation between the country and other nations, KMK has proposed forming a special free treatment programme for Kazakh children who suffer from serious illnesses and cannot afford treatment or medical check-ups.
“Many children don’t even know their diagnosis and can’t afford the medical check-up abroad. We want to give them the opportunity at least to pass a medical check-up for free,” said Taldybayev.
With support from his strategic partners and team members, the project has become a reality. The team will continue working on various joint projects to provide the opportunity for patients from the CIS to obtain affordable and high-quality medical services and contribute to improving healthcare in Kazakhstan.