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S.Korea confirms push to foster telehealth market

By Yoo Seungki

SEOUL, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye has confirmed her will to foster telehealth market as a new growth engine, opening the door for Samsung Group, the country's largest conglomerate, to be reborn as a healthcare giant. "The recent overseas trip provided me with a great opportunity to think about the future direction, to which our economy should go amid the rapidly-changing world economy. One of them was a remote healthcare," Park said during a meeting with senior presidential secretaries on Monday.

Park returned home last Thursday after a weeklong trip to India and Switzerland. While in Switzerland, Park visited Davos to participate in the annually-held World Economic Forum.

The South Korean president said that chief executives of global companies, who she met in Davos, stressed great potential of the telehealth market with one mouth, urging the need to cultivate the market faster than any other players.

Park said that current healthcare systems, which depend solely on face-to-face diagnosis and treatment, cannot address exponentially growing demand for healthcare services amid the longer lifespan and aging population.

The telehealth, which refers to a remote monitoring of disease and symptoms by the use of medical devices and telecommunication technology together, will be allowed in South Korea mostly among small hospitals.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said on its website that the telehealth will be pushed ahead mostly with town hospitals, noting that people living in islands and mountains and the elderly and the disable who have troubles in seeing a doctor will benefit from the remote examination and treatment.

The Finance Ministry unveiled the three-year economic restructuring plan in mid-January, which included the plan to nurture five promising service industries, including the healthcare sector.

Park's push for the telehealth market expansion will help the Samsung Group get reborn as a healthcare giant as the group is expected to push for a convergence between its main IT sector and the healthcare business.

Last September, Samsung Electronics, the group's flagship unit, declared a change in mobile trend by rolling out its first- generation wearable device Galaxy Gear smart watch that could be matched with the anticipated growth of telehealth in the country.

Under the 10-year scheme, the country's largest conglomerate planned to inject 23.3 trillion won (about 22 billion U.S. dollars) by 2020 into five new growth businesses, including biomedicine and medical equipment.

President Park said that healthcare services should be converted into the telehealth by the use of the information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance access to hospitals for those who live in secluded villages. "It gives a great implication to us, the IT powerhouse. To make our companies play an active part in the global (telehealth) market with great potential, we should make them play a big part in the domestic market first" said Park.

Samsung may fit the best, among South Korean players, with strict requirements to become a healthcare giant. The group has the capital strength, manpower, brand value and technical prowess in the IT industry as well as the will to invest in the healthcare business. In addition, Samsung is already operating hospitals.

The group's successful turn will boost the country's growth given its big influence in the economy, and vice versa. Samsung Electronics alone accounted for around 15 percent of the total market cap on the main bourse.

Revenue in the global telehealth market is expected to surge to 4.5 billion dollars in 2018, surging by a factor of more than 10 compared with 440.6 million dollars in 2013, according to market researcher IHS Technology.

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