Transparency, big data and international cooperation at the heart of Korean health system success

Access to transparent, in depth data to inform evidence-based policy making has been crucial to Korea’s recent reforms argued Dr Sohn.

A transparent system, data analysis and active international cooperation are at the heart of Korea's successes in health system development said Dr Myongsei Sohn, President of the Korean Health Insurance Review and Assessment Centre (HIRA) at a public lecture at LSE last night (Monday 16 November). 

The event, hosted by LSE Health, explored the lessons learnt from the Korean experience of health system development since the introduction of a universal health insurance scheme in Korea in 1989. 

With a population of 51 million and a per capita GDP of USD 27,970, Korea spends 7.2 percent of its GDP on healthcare, below the OECD average of 9.3 per cent.

Dr Sohn outlined the major features of the Korean system which offers a fee-for-service payment approach with the private sector as the dominant provider. There is mandatory enrolment of providers into the national health insurance scheme with a single payer system in place since 2000. An independent commissioning organisation oversees commissioning, whilst expenditure is monitored via an extensive ICT based monitoring system.

Access to transparent, in depth data to inform evidence-based policy making has been crucial to Korea’s recent reforms argued Dr Sohn. He highlighted the successful management of the fee-for-service system as a source of big data. Data from claims and retailers is accumulated daily. Korea manages 1.4 billion claims per year. Each claim has a personal identification number enabling data tracking of individual claims since the system was instituted in 1977.

In addition an extensive resource management system tracks personnel, equipment and supplies. Wholesalers and retailers report stock inventories monthly which are then cross checked against claims data supporting access to a real time drug utilisation review system. Analysis of this extensive databank enables ongoing monitoring including the production of monthly hospital rankings according to quality assessment criteria. It also informs incentive setting for practitioners and the regulation and promotion of pharmaceutical development.

Dr Sohn also placed emphasis on the need to share experience of health systems management on the international stage. Health systems improvement, he argued, should not be a national issue but a global one. HIRA is encouraging international dialogue via the establishment of a global alliance of national healthcare purchasing and insurance organisations and will be hosting a conference in Seoul from the 14-15 January 2016. HIRA have asked LSE Health’s Professor Elias Mossialos to Chair the Scientific Committee of the new network, ensuring ongoing cooperation between HIRA and the LSE.

Transparent healthcare monitoring and effective information sharing will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare systems globally, Dr Sohn concluded.


Elias Mossialos, Professor of Health Policy, Department of Social Policy, (@mossialos)


LSE Health is a research centre affiliated with the Departments of Social Policy, Management and Accounting. The centre is committed to interdisciplinary research that benefits policy makers and health professionals.

17 November 2015

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