Review: Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital's International Clinic in Seoul

My regular readers know that I do not write the typical informative Korean expat blog full of useful information like how to navigate the subway system or where to find Pop-Tarts on the black market.  Oh, I've included a few descriptions of points of interest (palace here, museum of chicken art there) and an occasional comment on cultural differences, but I think we can all agree that this blog is really more about me and my observations than providing useful facts and hard data for present or potential expats in Seoul.

However, for every rule, there must be an exception, and it is with this adage in mind that I provide you with my first actual review that might actually be useful to someone who is new to Seoul or planning to move here soon:  Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital's International Clinic, located in Hannam-Dong.

The reason for my visit was a nasty case of laryngitis and what I assumed was a common cold, which are not things I ordinarily go to the doctor for.  However, as I have recently learned, if you have laryngitis badly enough (and I apparently did, lucky me) your vocal chords can swell so much that it makes getting air between them a bit challenging.  Since I place a high priority on breathing, I decided - after 8 months living in Korea - that it was time for the advice of a professional, and the wheels were put in motion for our first interface with the Korean health care system.

Since I could not actually talk, MrLogical made the appointment for me.  He was told by the English-speaking staff that, since it was such short notice (we wanted an appointment for that day) they could not get us an actual appointment, but that they did take walk-ins, and that we should come to the office at 1:30pm after the lunch break and they would get us in.  Used to the American healthcare system, I was not too encouraged by this.  In the US - even though we have always had excellent health care plans - it is not unusual to wait for anywhere from 15-45 minutes in the doctor's office even when you have an appointment.  Places that take walk-ins, like Urgent Treatment centers or clinics, usually mean at least an hour's wait - or longer.  MrL and I steeled ourselves for this - I brought my Kindle and MrL even brought his laptop to get a little work done during the long painful wait that was sure to come.

We got to the hospital where the clinic was located and easily found a parking spot in the lot directly in front of the building (you have to pay for parking, but get the first hour or so free.)  The International Clinic is located in the same building as the Women's and Children's services and easy to find.  We made our way up to the 2nd floor and found the door marked 'International Clinic' still closed for  lunch since we were about 15 minutes early and sat ourselves down to wait in the hall outside the clinic.  At exactly 1:30, the door opened, and we were ushered in.  The three or four women working at the front desk all spoke good English and told us apologetically that it would be just a few minutes' wait (even though we were walk-ins!).  We waited less than 5 minutes before we were ushered in to the doctor's office.  She examined me, asked about my symptoms, and told me that she would be sending me for sinus and lung xrays to check for infection and nebulizer treatments to help with my breathing.  One of the women from the front desk - whose job was both to guide us around the hospital and act as our interpreter - appeared and led us down the hall to a desk where she handed over the slip that the doctor had written for me, explained what I needed in Korean.  A clerk behind the desk printed out a few forms, which she gave to me.  Our guide led us down the hall to radiology, handed my form to someone at another desk, and told me to wait until my name was called.  Once again, the Kindle and the laptop were unnecessary.  I was xrayed and out of there in minutes.

Next stop was the nebulizer treatment, which was given to me across the hall from X-ray in what was called the 'injection room.' As it turned out, the injection room was connected to a much larger room full of patients in varying states of illness lying on gurneys, either receiving treatments, being visited by friends or family, or simply lying huddled under blankets and waiting (I assumed, to be admitted.)  It reminded me of an American ER, with gurneys lined up with curtains hanging between them, but much more crowded.  There was one empty gurney, and that was where I was given my neubulizer treatments- which had already been ordered via my doctor's computer and were waiting for me when I got there. The nurse who administered the treatment spoke enough clear and effective English to explain what the treatments were for and what I needed to do.

When the nebulizer treatments were finished, it was back to the clinic, where we sat for a few minutes before being ushered in to the doctor's office.  By this time, my xrays had already been sent to her computer, and she had already determined that I had no lung infection but that I did have a sinus infection, and would need antibiotics, as well as an steroid injection to help reduce some of the swelling and inflammation in my larynx.  While she was explaining this to me, she was entering information on her computer, and writing out prescriptions.  She also used an online program to make me an appointment to come back and see her  the following Wednesday for a follow-up  (in the US, this would not have been done by the doctor, but would have been done by the receptionist - after more waiting in line.)  We were told that we could have my prescriptions filled at any pharmacy, and then we were met by our English-speaking guide, who once again got my forms for me and led me back to the injection room, where the nurse had already received the orders for the steroid injection on her computer and had it waiting for me.

We were walking out the door to the parking lot in just under 1 1/2 hours, including the 15 minutes we'd waited because we'd arrived too early.  Cost for the whole thing, including consultations, xrays, nebulizer treatments and injections?  KRW84,000 (about $80 US with our expat insurance:  I've been told that, if you have Korean National Health Insurance, costs are cheaper.)

The longest wait we experienced (maybe 10 minutes) was at the pharmacy (we went to the Severance Pharmacy directly across the street from the hospital;  there are a number of pharmacies right there).  All of our information was already included on the printout with our prescription from the doctor, so there was no need to present our health insurance card or fill out any forms.  The pharmacist (apparently used to dealing with foreigners) spoke English and was able to give me clear directions.  An important note;  many medications that are over-the-counter in the US, such as certain decongestants or extra-strength ibuprofen, are not available without a prescription in Korea, so I was given prescriptions not only for antibiotics, but also for an anti-inflammatory, decongestants, and antihistamines  Here's how I got them:

That's right:  in individual dose-packs to be taken 3 times a day.  Beautifully efficient!  In the US, this would have been 4 different pill bottles with 4 different sets of directions, to be opened and closed 3 times a day.

Bottom Line:  Our first experience at the Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital's International Clinic was a very positive one.  The staff in the clinic were very professional, spoke good English and were helpful and efficient.  Wait times were minimal, and the cost was very reasonable in comparison to typical US health care prices.

Location:  Hannam-dong;  The Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital International Clinic is located on the 2nd floor of the building which also houses the Women's and Children's services and is well-marked.

More information, including directions and telephone numbers, is available here:  Soon Chun Hyan University Hospital International Clinic


Trish said…
I've been looking forward to reading this. Will have to show husband later and get his opinion on this ultra-efficient system; and not that expensive either. Love the little packets for the tablets!
MsCaroline said…
Trish- I was hoping you'd read this one and wondered what Dougie would have to say about it. Of course, keep in mind I'm coming from the US, where everything costs 10X more than it needs to and - in my opinion - is often far more complex than it needs to be.
Choco Pie said…
That sounds like a good experience. I've been there too, and they always take good care of the international clinic patients. Coming from the US, the medical care here is unbelievable, so inexpensive.
Almost American said…
I love the little packets for the meds! I remember getting the same kind of thing when I got sick the summer I spent in Taiwan. I was stunned at how many pills were in each packet and went back to ask the doctor if he would please write down in English for me what he had prescribed. He wrote that he'd ordered "some antibiotics for the (strep)infection and other things for the pain and swelling"!
MsCaroline said…
CP- We had heard good things, too, although a couple of people also had some negative things to say. It was such a positive experience, compared to the US!
MsCaroline said…
AA - I was shocked, too! If I'd been back in the US, I would have been told to go buy some OTC decongestants, antihistamines, and anti-inflammatories. It is so much easier to remember to take everything this way - especially if you have to go to work. I wonder if the little packs are an Asian thing?
Trish said…
Hubby read your post and was impressed and then said his little rural practice here in England, would have done all that apart from the x-ray! I think he looked lovingly at the little plastic packs though ;-)
MsCaroline said…
Trish- I think most people in the US would love to go to a small, rural health practice with a kindly local doctor who is known to them. In the US, I would have waited at least an hour to see my doctor (or a nurse practioner) (with an appointment)and then would have had to drive to the Xray facility where I would have had to wait for another hour or so. If I couldn't get in to see my own doc on a same-day basis (and that was usually the case), I could go to an urgent treatment center where the wait would have been as long - or possibly longer, depending on who was ahead of me.
I think the pill packets are great, myself - and so convenient for popping in your pocket if you have to be out when you need to take them!
Anonymous said…
Thanks to this review I had a successful non intimidating visit to here for bronchitis while traveling through Seoul. Can't thank you enough for typing it up!
MsCaroline said…
Anonymous - I'm so glad it was helpful and you had a good experience! Hope you're feeling better soon!
V said…
I wish my Seoul Hospital experiences had been as lovely as yours!

I have two young children and pregnant and we have been to the hospital A LOT.

Last week, my 5-year-old's ear drum burst. Since we hadn't planned on this occurring, we showed up at SCH (Soon Chun Hyang) International Clinic much like you did--walk-ins, right after lunch break.

My son had blood and pus dripping everywhere. We sat on an uncomfortable bench for nearly two hours waiting for the 5-minute appointment with an ENT. (The ENT was superb though; both inter-personally and cleaning out his ear.)

My daughter gashed her forehead late Sunday night and we took her to the ER at SCH. She got in immediately and the stitching (by a plastic surgeon was phenomenal.) We were there without insurance and the whole thing was approx. 70 USD. Fantastic.

My search for an OB/GYN however has been very challenging. With many HUGE cultural differences. I've been to 4 different hospitals and most appointments have taken 4+ hours, with 95% of that waiting. Bleh.

Thanks for your review!
MsCaroline said…
Oh, I'm glad it helped, but so sorry to hear about the long wait- so very challenging with little ones who are ill! I have been very fortunate thus far, but did have one appointment where I had to wait over an hour - one of the doctors had been in a car accident and the other doc was fielding both appointment schedules.. I have also heard good things about St Mary's and Samsung, but SCH is so close to our apartment, we have just kept going back, although I probably would go to Samsung if I needed surgery or had a serious problem. I'm afraid I don't have any obgyn input to share, but you may want to see if the 'Mama Seoul' website is still up and running. The author from the US had an awful lot of links and input to obgyns in Seoul who were very supportive of Western mums' birth plans, wishes, and general expectations ( partners present at check ups and the birth, birth plans followed, breast feeding/doulas/hypnobirth etc.) I know she has moved back to the US but I think her site is still up and running and may be helpful to you. I would also be happy to check with some of the parents at the school where I teach- most are German, some from other European countries- and many have recently had babies in Seoul so may be able to pass on good info. You can send me a PM via My AsiaVu FaceBook page and I'll be happy to pass on any useful contact info! Good luck to you, and hope all is well with your little ones.
Unknown said…
This review was incredibly helpful--thanks so much! I went to the clinic as a walk-in for crippling neck pain. To cut to the chase, I received a trigger point injection for the pain and was out of there in less than 45 mins! What's more, the cost was the equivalent of $69 WITHOUT INSURANCE! The doctor told me it was better than a steroid shot because there would be no side effects and I could get them as often as needed (they wear off in about 4 months). My only problem is this: I have been unable to get one since I arrived back here. After spending nearly $500 WITH STUPID INSURANCE and calling around and getting xrays and acupuncture and physical therapy, I cannot to save my life find out where I can get another trigger point injection. Can anyone help? I live in Columbia, SC. SO disgusted about health care in this country!
MsCaroline said…
Hi, Valencia, I'm so glad that this review was helpful to you! We got most of our care at SCHU hospital during our nearly-four years in Seoul, and were always very pleased with the care and efficiency of the International Clinic and other hospital staff. I'm sorry you're having so much trouble finding help in the US - we're not looking forward to having to interact with the US healthcare system when we return, I can assure you! I did a google search on trigger point injections in SC and found a clinic that might be of help to you in Columbia, although I know nothing about them. Hope this at least helps you get started on your search!

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