A clinic in Gangnam has apologized to actress Han Ye-seul for a botched lipoma operation after the actress posted a photo of her mutilated arm on Instagram last Friday.
"I was the victim of botched surgery," Han wrote. "Two weeks have passed since the surgery, but the hospital has yet to mention compensation."
The next day, the CHA Gangnam Medical Center said it has offered compensation and is helping the actress recover. Han posted another photo of her wound on Instagram on Monday saying "I am heartbroken."
The hospital then made a public apology. Korean hospitals are notoriously slow to admit malpractice, but Han's celebrity status seems to have helped.
Ahn Ki-jong of the Korea Alliance of Patients Organization said, "Han merely received the treatment any victim of medical malpractice deserves, but most victims are not treated that way. The issue is not that she is getting special treatment, but that most victims are not treated the same."
And Kim Jae-cheon of the Health Right Network said, "CHA Gangnam Medical Center's response has been so quick simply because the victim is a celebrity. There are far more cases that are more serious but patients have to go to great lengths to prove doctors' mistakes."
One victim of medical malpractice who has been engaged in a prolonged legal battle said, "I envied Han and felt cheated at the same time when I heard about her case. She's probably ended up with a scar, but my child died and the doctors are still not admitting their mistakes."
Only a very small percentage of medical malpractice lawsuits end up in favor of victims. According to the latest legal White Paper, only 1.2 percent of the 2,893 medical malpractice lawsuits filed between 2014 and 2016 ended up with a court siding completely with the victim or patient. The ratio goes up to only 29.1 percent for cases where the courts partially sided with the victim.
One staffer at a large hospital said, "It is common sense to acknowledge your mistakes in clear-cut cases, but it looks like CHA Gangnam Medical Center's response was a bit rash since they were scared of bad publicity."
"This is a typical case of 'VIP syndrome,' where a hospital went overboard to accommodate a celebrity," former Korean Medical Association head Roh Hwan-kyu wrote on his blog. "This was a botched surgery, but the intentions were probably good."
A staffer at CHA Gangnam Medical Center said malpractice suits usually drag on because many areas of the case are ambiguous, "but in this case, the mistake was clear and the doctor admitted his error so we were able to move ahead quickly. The patient's fame had nothing to do with it."
A photo of her scar Han Ye-seul posted on Instagram