Over the past decade, more than 1,300 foreign patients from approximately 50 countries were treated at the Pain Clinic of the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, Asan Medical Center. Professor Jin-Woo Shin of the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine has constantly been researching new treatments to improve the quality of life of patients suffering from pain. Professor Jin-Woo Shin shares his story about treating international patients.
Treatment philosophy behind treating patients from abroad
Pain is a symptom that accompanies most diseases. Acute pain is a self-defense mechanism that prevents aggravation of tissue damage, while chronic pain is itself a major symptom and disease that can degrade a patient’s quality of life. Patients come to our department for various medical conditions, but many healthcare professionals tend to focus solely on treating the disease rather than addressing the chronic pain experienced by the patient. By professionally controlling chronic pain, we can improve patients’ quality of life and treatment satisfaction. Therefore, I am committed to continuous research and treatment development for chronic pain.
Specialized area of treatment and accumulated experience
When the time came for me to choose my specialty, the field of pain medicine was slowly gaining attention overseas and expanding its scope. Additionally, more and more hospitals in South Korea were starting pain clinics. I chose Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine to challenge myself in this new field. Since joining AMC in 2004, I have dedicated 18 years to the treatment and research of pain patients at AMC Pain Clinic. Over the years, I have often encountered limitations in pain treatment, which has motivated me to continue developing and researching new therapies. As a result, I became the world’s first to develop Spinal Epidural Balloon Decompression and Adhesiolysis, a procedure that uses a balloon to alleviate spinal stenosis or adhesion. After obtaining new health technology certification in 2013, Spinal Epidural Balloon Decompression and Adhesiolysis became a primary procedure commonly used in most university and spine specialty hospitals in South Korea, and it has been introduced in countries such as Italy and Singapore. At AMC Pain Clinic, we have performed over 8,000 procedures and published 12 SCI-level research findings. In addition, we systematized and reported Genicular Nerve Radiofrequency Ablation, a relief for intractable knee pain. In 2011, Genicular Nerve Radiofrequency Ablation was published for the first time in the world in ‘Pain,’ a journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain. Since then, it has become an important procedure for chronic knee pain, commonly used and researched by medical professionals worldwide, including in the United States and Europe. Based on my surgical experience and research findings, I have also published a book titled ‘Spinal Epidural Balloon Decompression and Adhesiolysis’ in Korean and English. I will continue my research and development to develop more excellent treatments.
Considerations when treating international patients
Understanding cultural differences between countries or religions is crucial because they may be significant. South Korean patients tend to trust and entrust their bodies to doctors even without being given detailed explanations. This is especially true for elderly patients who may not ask questions, even if they are curious, but instead trust and follow healthcare professionals. However, based on my experience, most foreign patients have requested more detailed explanations than South Korean patients. I make an effort to explain to patients in as much detail as possible and understand them based on this experience.
Memorable patient from abroad
An American male patient in his late 50s came to AMC Pain Clinic as he had been experiencing hip pain for several years, making it difficult for him to sit for long hours. In the United States, he had been diagnosed with spinal stenosis and undergone several therapies, including medication, physical therapy, and spinal procedures multiple times over the years, but they remained temporarily effective. He complained that pain would start from the hip and come up to the waist when he sat for a long time, even making walking difficult when the pain was severe. I explained to him that a coccyx ligament injury was suspected, and any damage or inflammation to the ligaments around the coccyx could trigger such pain. Initially, the patient seemed doubtful about treating other parts and asked me many questions since he had been diagnosed with spinal stenosis in the United States. However, he eventually decided to receive the treatment and underwent a procedure involving injecting anti-inflammatory medication around the tender area. One month after the procedure, he visited me and reported more than 60% improvement, particularly mentioning that there was almost no pain after two weeks of the procedure. At the final visit after additional treatment sessions, he thanked me for completely removing the pain that had been bothering him for years. In this patient’s case, he had been under prolonged spinal treatment based on MRI findings when, in fact, his condition was a coccyx ligament injury, which was why his condition had not improved. I was pleased to fix his long-lasted pain with a simple procedure.
Message to patients from abroad
When foreign patients decide to seek treatment in another country, they may have concerns about the quality of medical professionals or the ability to communicate properly. The quality of medical care in South Korea, especially at Asan Medical Center, is proudly comparable to that of any other place in the world. The International Healthcare Center at Asan Medical Center provides excellent support for language issues, allowing patients to receive treatment without inconvenience. I hope that foreign patients can come to Asan Medical Center with peace of mind and receive the best possible care.
※ 'Meet AMC Experts' features dedicated doctors at Asan Medical Center (AMC) who shed light on international patients coming a long way from home for treatment.
Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
Professor Jin-Woo Shin
Specialty : Pain Clinic (Spinal Pain, Joint Pain, Neuropathic Pain)
Position : Professor, Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
Academic Activities : Director of Executive Management, The Korean Pain Society / Director of Executive Management, The Korean Spinal Pain Society / Director of Executive Management, The Korean Neuromodulation Society / Published over 80 SCI papers / Published a book titled ‘Spinal Epidural Balloon Decompression and Adhesiolysis’ in Korean and English