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Conflict between healthcare workers intensifies over medical device use
  • By Song Soo-youn
  • Approval 2017.09.14 18:42
  • comments 0

There is one conflict observed only in South Korea and not in any other country – the fight between medical doctors and Oriental medicine practitioners. Currently, there are about 100,000 medical doctors and 20,000 herb doctors in Korea.

Oriental medicine practitioners, certified as medical professionals only in Korea in the world, base their theories in traditional Korean Oriental medicine. The Oriental medicine is practiced in the Yin-Yang and the Five Elements philosophy and Qi, or energy flow. Oriental medicine practitioners use traditional oriental therapies such as acupuncture and moxybustion to treat patients.

Separate from medical schools, six-year Oriental medicine colleges for nurturing Oriental medicine practitioners are as popular as medical schools for university entrance exam takers. They are considered as one of the toughest schools to enter. Graduates of Oriental medicine schools should pass the state exam, just as medical school graduates, to get a license to become an Oriental medicine practitioner.

Some of their Oriental medicine treatments are covered by the national health insurance, but most of their incomes come from selling oriental herbal medicine to patients who want to strengthen their weak bodies. However, sales of such medicine began to fall, as people turned to new products such as red ginseng for replenishing energy and Viagra for erectile dysfunction.

In other words, much of the demand for oriental herbal medicine has moved to dietary supplements. A series of media reports on heavy metal-tainted oriental herbs also raised concern for safety. The proportion of closed Oriental medicine hospitals out of the total went up to 79.3 percent in 2016 from 68.4 percent in 2013, according to the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service.

Oriental medicine practitioners want to use X-ray

Oriental medicine practitioners searched ways to stay afloat, and one of them is to use a modern medical device such as X-ray machine, which outraged medical doctors.

Under the current law, Oriental medicine practitioners are banned from using X-ray machines for treatment but allowed for research.

Oriental medicine practitioners have begun to demand a lift of the ban to examine their patients accurately. Medical doctors have been opposing it, saying the use of X-rays by Oriental medicine practitioners would undermine the state licensing system, and that it could raise the risk of misdiagnosis.

Such conflict between medical doctors and Oriental medicine practitioners emerged in earnest under the former Park Geun-hye administration. The government’s announcement in December 2014 -- that it would allow Oriental medicine practitioners to use the modern medical device and to be covered by the national health insurance – immediately sparked strong protests by the medical industry. Before the announcement, only limited sorts of medical equipment had been allowed such as tonometry machine, dioptometry device, slit lamp microscopes and hearing testers.

AKM Chairman Kim Pil-geon held a fasting demonstration two years ago starting on January 28, 2015 for 14 days calling for the government to let Oriental doctors use modern medical devices.

Over time, Oriental medicine practitioners demanded the use of a wider scope of machines such as X-ray and ultrasonic devices. They reached a point where the Association of Korean Medicine established an education center to give training on how to use ultrasonic devices. AKM Chairman Kim Pil-geon demonstrated how to use ultrasonic bone densitometer in January 2016. Medical doctors who saw Kim’s demonstration pointed out that Kim was wrong in all steps from measuring to diagnosing and to treating.

Each representative of the two groups, medical doctors, and Oriental medicine practitioners, even went on a hunger strike to protest each other’s demand. Choo Moo-jin, president of the Korean Medical Association, started fasting on Jan. 20, 2015 to protest the government’s move to allow the use of a modern medical device by Oriental medicine practitioners. The strike went on for six days. Just two days after Choo stopped the hunger strike, Association of Korean Medicine Chairman Kim Pil-geon began fasting to demand the use. The then-Health and Welfare Minister Moon Hyung-pyo visited him to stop it, but Kim dropped the hunger strike on the 14th day.

The ministry tried to narrow the differences between the two groups by setting up a consultation body, consisting of officials from the two groups but failed in the end.

KMA chief protests use of medical device by Oriental medicine practitioners

While the government pushed the use of the medical device by Oriental medicine practitioners during the former Park administration, it is now pushed by lawmakers in the National Assembly under the Moon Jae-in administration.

Rep. Kim Myeong-yeon of the opposition Liberty Korea Party and Rep. In Jae-keun of the ruling Democratic Party proposed a revised bill of the Medical Service Act on Sept. 6 and Sept. 8, respectively, to allow Oriental medicine practitioners to use radiation devices such as X-ray for diagnosis. The bill includes Oriental medicine practitioners as those who can use such devices.

Choo Moo-jin, KMA president, has entered a fasting demonstration starting Wednesday to protest the use of modern medical devices by Oriental doctors.

The lawmakers’ proposal faced stiff resistance from the medical service industry. The KMA released opposing statements every day.

“To allow them to use modern medical device will fundamentally shake the ground of the current medical service system, which separates modern medicine from Oriental medicine. It will completely deny our licensing system, too,” the KMA said.

As shown by the AKM Chairman’s wrong demonstration in using the ultrasonic bone densitometer, it would be “needless to say” that their use of medical devices will threaten the public health, the KMA said.

Choo, President of the KMA, went on a hunger strike, again, on at 9 p.m. Wednesday at the KMA’s headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul. It is his second hunger strike since January 2015.

“I will not stop fighting until lawmakers withdraw their revision bill proposal which would allow illegal Oriental medicine practitioners to use medical devices,” Choo said.

The Korean Intern Resident Association’s emergency planning committee head Gi Dong-hoon took up the baton to protest in front of the National Assembly and passed it on KMA vice president Kim Rok-gwon who staged a solo protest there on Thursday.

The AKM, the group of Oriental medicine practitioners, criticized the KAM’s protests for “interrupting legislation.”

“It is entirely reasonable for Oriental medicine practitioners to use modern medical devices to examine patients accurately and provide the best Oriental medicine service for the public,” the AKM said in a statement.

soo331@docdocdoc.co.kr

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