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Health experts support government’s telemedicine drive
  • By Choi Gwang-seok
  • Published 2020.07.15 16:27
  • Updated 2020.07.15 16:27
  • comments 0

Healthcare experts expressed positive views on the government’s push for the introduction of telemedicine as part of the “Korean New Deal” policy.

Kwon Soon-man, a Seoul National University Graduate School of Public Health professor, said it would be excessive to make non-face-to-face healthcare service illegal.

His comments came at an academic debate on Covid-19 and the national health insurance system at the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) on Tuesday.

Healthcare experts held a debate on Covid-19 and the national health insurance program's future at the National Health Insurance Service on Tuesday. (NHIS)

“Telemedicine will be possible if state-run institutions gradually start to introduce a pilot project for patients who need to see a doctor for the second time, given many limitations in reality,” Kwon said.

Noting that he supported telemedicine, Kwon said the purpose of the non-face-to-face patient care is not to support a particular company or industry but to improve medical access and patients’ convenience.

Kwon went on to say that when a patient cannot see a doctor even when he or she is sick, the patient needs an alternative to get treatment. “I haven’t seen any country that made telemedicine illegal. We need to think why we need this, from the perspective of patients,” he said.

Kwon argued that telemedicine would complement face-to-face care, rather than replace it.

Remote patient care could also help clinics and tertiary hospitals cooperate, he noted.

“Clinics worry that telemedicine could weaken their status, but it would be an opportunity to enhance their cooperation with large-scale hospitals,” he said.

For the long term, non-face-to-face is predicted to contribute to community care and aging in place, he added.

Another expert said telemedicine should go along with the general practitioner system.

Ki Mo-ran, a professor of preventive medicine at the National Cancer Center, said she witnessed the need for telemedicine because of Covid-19. She agreed with Kwon that remote patient care would not substitute face-to-face care but complement it.

“Telemedicine can be effective only when introduced with the general practitioner system,” she said.

Physicians should first provide education, guidance, and preparation for patients through face-to-face patient care first and help patients get ready to receive telemedicine service and provide remote care only for those they have built trust.

Professor Kim Yoon of the Health Policy and Management at Seoul National University College of Medicine also said remote patient care should be vitalized centering on the general practitioner system.

Kim pointed out that the government’s New Deal policy seemed to focus on smart hospitals, collaborative treatment, and 5G.

The government does not seem to put priority to resolve issues for chronic disease patients and those with suspected Covid-19 who cannot meet a doctor due to risks of Covid-19 infections, he said.

Experts also noted that the government should speed up discussion over giving paid leave and accident/sickness benefits.

“Few of OECD members are slow to introduce paid leave or sickness benefits like Korea,” Professor Kwon said.

If a worker is eligible for sickness benefits due to the loss of work ability, discussions should start over official recognition procedure, waiting period, guarantee level, maximum guarantee period, the insurance premium for the self-employed, and relationship with legally paid sick leave, he added.

Professor Kim also raised the need for paid sick leave and accident/sickness benefits, citing an example of cluster infections of Covid-19.

“We must introduce the paid sick leave or accident/sickness benefits. We keep seeing cases where sick people infected others at work,” Kim said.

The government announced that it would run a pilot program to introduce sickness benefits in 2022, which signals that the government was considering the project as a mid-to-long-term task, he said.

Given the cases of cluster infections from sick people who could not rest but work and infected others, the government should introduce paid sick leave as soon as possible, Kim added.


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