South Korea’s Health Ministry on Monday announced it would once again proceed to revise the current Medical Service Act to allow telemedicine — the use of information technology and telecommunications in order to provide clinical health care at a distance — in spite of fierce opposition from the largest body of physicians here.
The service, once legalized, would only benefit individuals with physical disabilities, those who live in remote areas and elderly patients with chronic medical conditions and whose mobility is impaired, the government said.
The Welfare Ministry’s proposal, which was first introduced in 2013, has been fiercely protested by the Korean Medical Association, the nation’s largest representative group of doctors. They claim that there are many safety concerns about the technology, such as risks associated with Internet connection problems, a risk of data leakages and misdiagnosis. As a result, the bill was scrapped during the 19th National Assembly.
|A participant speaks during a gathering of physicians at the Korean Medical Association building in Ichon-dong Seoul, which was organized to discuss ways to prevent the government’s pursuit to legalize telemedicine and allow traditional medical doctors to use modern medical equipment. Yonhap
Currently, telemedicine is only allowed between health care professionals. For example, a pharmacist who works in a remote region is able to consult a doctor who works in a general hospital in the city should he or she need the guidance. However, all doctors are prohibited from treating or diagnosing patients at a distance.
The revised bill allows telemedicine between health care professionals and patients with specific medical, social or geographical conditions. To be eligible for telemedicine care, a patient must have chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, or mental illness. Elderly patients with impaired mobility and individuals with physical disabilities would also be eligible.
Residents of remote areas that do not have medical facilities, as well as patients in the military or prison, would also be allowed to be treated via telemedicine. Patients who have recently undergone a surgical procedure and are in need of postsurgery medical attention at home would be eligible for the treatment as well.
In the case of medical accidents or misdiagnosis, doctors would be only responsible for damages once it is proven that the telecommunications device did not have a technical failure and their patients followed their guidance and instructions.
The Health Ministry stressed that according to their own studies, patients with chronic illnesses were highly satisfied with telemedicine services. From September 2014 to March 2015, the ministry ran a pilot program for telemedicine services for some 845 patients. The largest proportion of them, 68.6 percent, were those with high blood pressure, and almost 40 percent of all patients were those in their 60s. A government survey showed that 76.9 percent of all participants were satisfied with the service.
To ensure patients’ safety, the Health Ministry said no medical institution would be allowed to offer telemedicine services only. All institutions that offer telemedicine services will be required to offer in-person treatments at the same time, they added. Also, all patients who receive telemedicine services would be required to visit their physicians in person regularly.
Still, Kim Joo-hyun, the spokesman of KMA, said the ministry should cancel its proposal altogether. He pointed out that the government’s pilot program was done “behind closed doors” and that it did not share its process with the nation’s physicians.
“We still believe that telemedicine should be done between medical professionals only,” he told The Korea Herald. “Unless the government makes all documents related to the pilot program public, we don’t think we have enough proof that this proposal is going to be safe for all patients nationwide.”
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Source : The Korea Herald