The government started to temporarily allow doctors to provide medical consultation and write a prescription for people with mild cold symptoms from Monday, to minimize the risk of the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
However, physicians expressed divided opinions, with one side supporting the measure and the other side, opposing it.
Clinicians in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, where the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases shot up over the weekend, supported the idea of temporary telemedicine.
However, the Korean Medical Association, a group of about 100,000 physicians across the nation, advised its members to refuse over-the-phone medical service.
“Although the KMA is opposing to phone consultation and prescription, the situation in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province is too serious,” an official at the Daegu Medical Association told Korea Biomedical Review. “In these two regions, we need phone consultation and prescription. If a COVID-19 patient comes to a clinic when the number of confirmed patients keeps rising here, the clinic will have to close its business.”
If doctors have to provide phone consultation and prescription in earnest, they will need extra time to prepare electronic codes for medical billing and reimbursement, he added.
The support for the temporary telemedicine also came earlier from the KMA’s executive operation committee meeting on Saturday.
North Gyeongsang Province Medical Association on Sunday notified its members that the group decided to participate in the temporary phone consultation and prescription after a discussion with the KMA.
However, the KMA still insists that doctors should refuse to cooperate with the government for the over-the-phone consultation and prescription.
“We notified not to cooperate with the measure,” an official at the KMA said. “This is because the measure is not a fundamental solution for infectious disease control.”
Clinics and hospitals in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province are on the verge of collapsing. Still, the government does not seem to comprehend this situation, the official went on to say.
Even if doctors offer over-the-phone consultation and prescription, it is questionable how effective it would be to stop the new coronavirus outbreak, he added.
On Sunday, the KMA sent a notification to all members, encouraging them to refuse over-the-phone consultation and prescription.
In the statement, the group said it has repeatedly recommended the government to limit the entry of Chinese people and designate hospitals to care for COVID-19 patients exclusively, but the government has rejected them all.
Amid the worsening virus outbreak, the Ministry of Health and Welfare suddenly announced the allowing of phone consultation and prescription temporarily, without any prior discussion with the medical community, the KMA went on to say.
The group reiterated its opposing stance and demanded the government withdraw the temporary measure immediately and apologize.
The KMA said writing a prescription just after a phone call could delay the diagnosis and treatment of a patient. Especially during the COVID-19 outbreak, a phone consultation could make a doctor mistakenly diagnose pneumonia as a simple upper respiratory tract infection, it argued.
“A potential COVID-19 patient can get a prescription for cold, go on daily life without quarantine, and spread the infection,” the KMA said.
Without detailed discussions for legal liability, doctor’s discretion, and the scope of prescription, the government unanimously made the announcement and caused significant confusion among the public and healthcare workers, the KMA added.
The association also recommended physicians to wear KF94 or higher-function medical face masks when seeing a patient with respiratory symptoms, to prevent the risk of the COVID-19 infection.
The KMA vowed to persuade the government to compensate doctors for a self-quarantine and a shutdown of a clinic, caused by a confirmed coronavirus case.
If a medical institution is found to have been visited by a confirmed patient, an epidemiologist determines whether to order self-quarantine on healthcare workers at the institution.
However, on the clinic level, such a case almost forces the owner to shut down the clinic.
“We believe that the government must provide compensation for loss of service and de facto closure of a medical institution equivalent to compensation for loss due to a formal closure order,” the KMA said.
If any KMA member becomes a confirmed patient, he or she must call the KMA at 1566-5058 or email to email@example.com and leave the name, contact, and how the confirmation was made. “The KMA will do its best to protect its members,” it added.
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