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How will healthcare change in ‘new normal era’ caused by Covid-19?
  • By Song Soo-youn
  • Published 2020.05.04 16:24
  • Updated 2020.05.04 16:24
  • comments 0

Covid-19 has changed Korean’ daily lives as their country prepares to enter into a “new normal” era where people have to live with the virus in various fields. The medical area is no exception.

For instance, a research paper in the New England Journal of Medicine recently drew global attention in this regard by asserting that the insurance system and payment structure should change to allow for the expansion of untact treatment using digital healthcare, on the occasion of the coronavirus pandemic.

Changes are already taking place in the medical field. Japan, where the number of confirmed patients is rapidly increasing, has expanded the targets of online medical treatment, a form of telemedicine, from existing patients to new ones. The country has also allowed drug delivery, increasing its online medical treatment by two to three times after the Covid-19 outbreak.

In Korea, too, the government has temporarily allowed telephone subscription. The number of phone prescriptions has exceeded 100,000 in one-and-a-half months, and related medical expenses amounted to 1.3 billion won ($1 million). President Moon Jae-in has also emphasized the need to develop untact industries, including the healthcare sector, raising expectations for bolstering the country’s telemedicine platform.

Experts are skeptical about such possibilities, however, as the medical field is mostly conservative and is slow to change.

Professor Jung Ji-hoon of the Kyung Hee Cyber University (left) and Digital Healthcare Partners CEO Choi Yoon-sup appear at a YouTube show “Corona Fighters Live” by K-Healthlog, a channel operated by The Korean Doctors’ Weekly, last Wednesday.

Appearing on a YouTube show, “Corona Fighters Live,” last Wednesday by K-Healthlog, a channel operated by The Korean Doctors’ Weekly, Professor Jung Ji-hoon of the Kyung Hee Cyber University said, after all his service in a government committee since he joined it about 20 years ago, he had reached one conclusion -- whatever Korea does, the nation’s healthcare system will not change.

“Most of the policy alternatives come out in ways different from deregulation,” Professor Jung said. “Some of its aspects are used in such conservative ways as to make me wonder why the government has introduced the so-called regulatory sandbox.”

With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, Jung said he had come to think a chance for change might come in Korea’s healthcare system at long last.

“If we look at it optimistically, Korea was one of the last countries to import Apple’s iPhone,” Jung said. “At that time, many said that Korea was lagging behind the smartphone era due to regulations. However, the nation became the world’s No. 1 country in smartphones use in a year.”

Once the repressed potential bursts out, the speed of development was very fast here, and perhaps the same phenomenon may help Korea catch up very quickly in the field of digital healthcare as well, Jung added.

During the show, Digital Healthcare Partners CEO Choi Yoon-sup pointed out that the government's reluctance to take responsibility is holding back the vitalization of the telemedicine industry.

“While the Ministry of Health and Welfare allowed temporary prescriptions on the phone, it made the move in rough-and-ready manners,” Choi said. “The detailed contents of the policy are enough to result in resistance from the medical community.”

The new policy states that while telephone prescription is available, it is up to the doctor to judge whether a situation requires it or not, leaving everything, including responsibility when things go awry, to doctors and patients how they use the system, he added.

Choi stressed that such a policy decision means that the government will not take any responsibility in making such a policy change.

“This means that the government is not ready to enact,” Choi said. “There is not even a common definition of telemedicine. As untact treatment eventually leads to telemedicine, it is necessary to define definitions and rules on how to do this.”

This is why the current government’s slogans for artificial intelligence (AI) or growth through innovation sound like empty promises in the clinical field, the CEO noted.

“To accommodate the new medical system in the field, it is necessary to have a reimbursement system that fits it,” Choi said. “The government should set aside a separate fund.”


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