Medication in South Korea

Good morning everyone,

Whether it's a simple cold or a chronic illness, medication and medicine use vary from country to country and culture to culture.

When you are used to certain brands or types of drugs, being in a country like South Korea with different rules can affect your daily well-being.

Some drugs also differ in name, price, dosage, active molecule, so we would like to hear your opinion on these issues:

Have you ever had difficulties finding familiar or useful medicines for your health in your host country?

Have you ever been faced with a shortage of medicines in South Korea?

Would you have said that in South Korea drugs are more or less expensive than in your home country? Do you find them more or less effective or of similar quality?

What is the place of alternative medicines in your host country? Have you ever used them?

Thank you in advance for your feedback,


Medical proficiency is one reason I chose Korea as a destination to live and work for a year or two back in 2003. Here it is 17 years later and I am still here. Why? The medical system is flawless and the stringent demands I have on resources are met with ample supply. The only drawbacks are that mental health here places a bullseye on one's back and doctors are quick to label foreign patients as addicts in certain facilities. For all of the challenges I have faced with doctors in Korea, peers in other countries with similar ailments as I have faced mirror struggles. Overmedication, wrong medications, lack of medications, dismissiveness, etc.
The reality is that Korean people see doctors as being infallible God types at the head of the table always right and never to be questioned. In this way, I have always bucked the system and demanded my caregivers know my name, see my eyes and talk to me and not at me. I attend every meeting with a  plan, questions, research and ask for verification of facts before accepting treatments that are not on my radar.
There are differences between medical systems in America and Korea, largely in two areas. Pain management is slow here and doctors are initially reluctant to prescribe medications that a patient has used, uses or wants to use, and that can be a good thing. However, post-ops can be a bit more excruciating or getting stitches because pain medication or numbing medications are infrequently used or underutilized. Korean medical belief is that pain is a sign of healing. It speeds up the recovery process. Perhaps. But not when you have a neurological disease that causes only pain signals throughout your entire body. That is a heavy concept to grasp but the necessary testing can be proven by technology and then doctors act swiftly to provide a level of care the patient is demanding. But demanding is the key. The second point of difference is regarding mental health. I am not crazy. I do not have depression. I love psychiatry and believe it is great for anyone to have someone to talk with that is neither a friend nor a family member but clinical psychiatry is in its infancy. Although less rare, it can still be a hurdle to find a good talking partner in the mental health world in Korea. As I said earlier, its stigmata to be involved in mental health. I use a wheelchair and take pain medications for chronic pain. Korean law requires me to see a psychiatrist and took a small amount of medication for depression just because of being a chronic pain patient. Its a drawback in the system that has me pigeonholed. What am I doing to do, care about it and worry? Not an option.
The cost of medical care for regular insurance carriers like most foreigners is heavy for a patient like me with a chronic ailment. Luckily I use insurance with my wife so the cost is negligible. It is still better than in America any way you slice it.
Oddly, when I was first being diagnosed it took about two years to get it accurately pegged. I have cross over symptoms and treatments had to be taken to rule out one thing or another. Coincidentally, my sister was enjoying the same struggle in America at almost the same time and for the same amount of time. My family wanted me to return to the states for an "accurate" diagnosis. All of my doctors here were educated in Europe, the States and Korea. Why would I do anyplace else?
I hope I have covered the scope of your question to your satisfaction.

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