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Hospital beds going up in Korea contrary to OECD's trend
  • By Song Soo-youn
  • Published 2019.05.20 15:19
  • Updated 2019.05.20 16:02
  • comments 0

As people have other tools to receive medical service outside hospitals, most members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are witnessing a decrease in the number of hospital beds.

However, Korea is one of the few OECD countries going against the trend, and Korean people still think they have to visit hospitals for treatment, an expert said.

According to OECD Health Data, Korea and Turkey were only the two among OECD countries that had an increase in the number of sickbeds per 1,000 people in the past 15 years.

Japan, which has the highest number of hospital beds among OECD, had a drop in sickbed number to 13.1 per 1,000 people in 2016 from 14.4 in 2002.

During the same period, the number in Germany fell from 8.9 to 8.1. In Belgium, the figure went down to 5.7 from 6.6, and in the U.K., from 4 to 2.6. On the contrary, the number in Korea more than doubled in the past 15 years from 4.8 in 2002 to 12 in 2016.

The fast increase of hospital beds in Korea was much steeper than that in Turkey, where the number slightly inched up to 2.8 from 2.3 during the same period. As of 2016, Korea ranked second after Japan in the number of hospital beds per 1,000 people, and the number was over two folds of the OECD average at 4.7.

‘Medicine provided outside hospitals, a global trend’

Lee Sang-gyu, a professor at the Hospital Management Department of Yonsei University’s Graduate School of Public Health, attributed the global trend of decreasing number of hospital beds to changed behaviors of patients who seek medical service outside hospitals.

According to healthcare consortium group Kaiser Permanente, more patients received medical service through indirect tools such as smartphones than those who visited hospitals. Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard J. Tyson said 52 percent of Kaiser Permanente’s patients interacted with physicians via smartphone, video conferencing, kiosks, and other technology tools in 2016. (Related article: More Than Half of Kaiser Permanente’s Patient Visits Are Done Virtually)

The U.S. had 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people in 2015, down from 3.4 in 2002.

“Except for Korea, hospital beds are shrinking. This does not mean that the number of patients is decreasing in other countries,” Lee recently told Korea Biomedical Review. “As medical technologies advanced, services that had to be done in a hospital became available outside.”

Many countries are already providing medical care breaking out of the mold of the hospital, and it is a global trend, he emphasized.

‘Policy needed for different way of medical service delivery’

Professor Lee Sang-gyu of the Hospital Management Department in Yonsei University’s Graduate School of Public Health speaks during an interview with Korea Biomedical Review.

Lee went on to say that the government should change its policy to come up with a new way to deliver medical service.

“One of the most important characteristics of a growing industry is that innovation comes before profit. In Korea, however, it is difficult to expect innovation in the medical industry,” he said. “Korean hospitals are preoccupied with making profits only. In an industry where profit comes first than innovation, growth does not occur.”

Lee noted that even if the government eases regulations on hospitals, it will not lead to an increase in the demand for innovative medicine because people are too accustomed to the current system. “From a business perspective, the government’s policies deal only with product and price, among four Ps in marketing – product, place, price, and promotion,” he said.

What patients and the general public expect from medicine is “place,” or the way how medicine is delivered but the government’s policies cover new drug development and medical devices industry support only, Lee went on to say, adding that new drugs and medical devices are only the components of medical service.

For the medical industry to develop, the process of consuming medical service should be fun, Lee added.

“For an industry to grow, consumers should feel that a product is innovative enough to pay a little bit more. Without a serious thought about how medical care is delivered, there will be no advancement in the medical industry,” he said.


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