PEOPLE [Meet AMC Experts] Treating an excess of 1,000 patients monthly, the Liver Specialist providing expert care 2023.05.12

Professor Won-Mook Choi, Division of Gastroenterology

“A sense of accomplishment from positive treatment outcome for an international patient with terminal hepatocellular carcinoma despite bleak prognosis”



The Division of Gastroenterology of Asan Medical Center has been recently ranked No. 6 in the world and No. 1 in Korea for the third consecutive year in the World's Best Specialized Hospitals by Newsweek. Over the past 10 years, the Division of Gastroenterology at Asan Medical Center has treated more than 5,400 international patients from nearly 70 countries. Professor Won-Mook Choi of the Division of Gastroenterology, who treats patients with chronic hepatitis B, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma, shares his story about treating international patients.


What is your philosophy when treating international patients?

I believe that building a relationship between people is crucial, and this is especially true for international patients, as is the case with patients and doctors. As a doctor, I try to think twice before meeting an international patient to ensure that our interactions will lead to a good relationship. Treating patients from a distant country is a big connection, and if the patient has a positive treatment outcome, I feel more relieved and rewarded than ever before.


How did you choose your medical specialty?

As a medical student, I learned that internal medicine doctors must understand the overall picture of how the body works. I was attracted to the field of internal medicine because it plays the role of a conductor when compared to an orchestra. Among the various fields in internal medicine, gastroenterology deals with different digestive organs such as the gastrointestinal tract, liver, and pancreatic biliary tract. The liver is the largest organ in the body and has many important immunological and metabolic roles such as storage, synthesis, elimination, detoxification, and excretion. In Korea, the incidence and prevalence of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma are high due to the high prevalence of hepatitis B in the past. Therefore, I chose to specialize in hepatology of the Division of Gastroenterology to help many patients by treating the most important organ, the liver.


Can you tell us about your medical practice so far?

I have continued to learn and research more treatments. For four years from 2015, I conducted basic translational research on the pathogenesis of alcoholic liver disease and the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis during my Ph.D. at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) Graduate School of Medicine. In 2014, I went to New York Langone Medical Center in New York, United States for training in gastroenterology to experience the American healthcare system. In 2016, I had a short-term training at the National Institutes of Health in the United States to conduct collaborative research on the pathogenesis of alcoholic fatty liver. Currently, I treat patients with chronic hepatitis B, liver cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma in the Division of Gastroenterology at Asan Medical Center. I see more than 1,000 patients per month and perform more than 300 endoscopic variceal ligation procedures and 800 abdominal ultrasound examinations per year.


▲ Professor Won-Mook Choi consulting a liver disease patient


What are the points you consider when treating international patients?

It is not easy to communicate with international patients from different languages and cultures. In particular, the language barrier makes it difficult to verify that the content has been properly communicated to the patient, and cultural differences make it difficult to form a strong patient-doctor relationship. When dealing with international patients, I try to keep explanations simple and clear. Avoiding vague explanations or difficult language and being clear about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis seems to be helpful when treating international patients.


Do you have any memorable international patients?

I remember a Chinese patient who visited in 2021. The patient was diagnosed at another hospital with terminal stage of hepatocellular carcinoma with portal vein invasion and lymph node metastasis. The patient came to Asan Medical Center with a life expectancy of less than a year and a hopeless prognosis. First, hepatic artery chemoinfusion therapy was performed for hepatocellular carcinoma accompanied by portal vein invasion, and it successfully treated most of the intrahepatic hepatocellular carcinoma. Subsequently, lenvatinib chemotherapy was initiated for hepatocellular carcinoma with portal vein invasion and lymph node metastasis. The patient responded well to the chemotherapy, and currently, the cancer has significantly reduced. The patient, who was in despair at the first treatment, regained peace and gained high satisfaction and deep trust in Asan Medical Center. The Chinese patient has already exceeded the expected life expectancy and is doing well and healthy, observing progress after nearly one and a half years of outpatient follow-up.


Any words you would like to say to international patients?

I feel infinite sense of responsibility in that international patients who are unable to receive treatment in their own countries visit Asan Medical Center. Asan Medical Center maintains an undisputed No. 1 position in Korea in Newsweek's ‘World's Best Hospitals’ rankings, and its global ranking is also rising every year. Asan Medical Center's medical staff and infrastructure are comparable to any world-renowned hospitals. In particular, the treatment of chronic hepatitis B, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma is among the best in the world. I hope that you will have confidence in Asan Medical Center and receive the best treatment possible.



※ '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.

Professor Won-Mook Choi

Specialty : Liver Disease (Chronic Hepatitis B, Cirrhosis, Hepatocellular Carcinoma)
Position : Professor for Asan Global Standard (AGS) Assessment
Academic Activities : Clinical Practice Guideline Committee, Korean Association for the Study of the Liver / Information Committee, The Korean Liver Cancer Association / Published over 45 SCI papers over the past decade