[VIEWPOINT]Hospital Care System Needs Reform, Too

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[VIEWPOINT]Hospital Care System Needs Reform, Too

Not long ago, an employee submitted a request for a leave of absence. The reason, of course, was "personal." The request was quite sudden, so before signing it, I asked her if she could tell me what her "personal reasons" were. She was an outstanding employee and I wondered why she had to take a leave of absence on such short notice.

The reason she gave me was that she had to take care of her mother, who would be in the hospital for a month or two after surgery. There was no one else available to care for her mother, she said.

As an American, I could not understand why a family member has to be responsible for the full-time care of a patient in a hospital. From the point of an American, it is given that the hospital looks after its patients, not family members. It was rather startling to me, therefore, that a son or a daughter of the patient or someone else in the family would have to take a leave of absence from their job to take care of the patient.

A few days later, my colleagues and I visited the employee at the hospital after work. The employee's mother shared a crowded ward; the room was packed not only with patients but with accompanying family members.

The TV was blaring loudly in one corner of the room, and some people were eating something in another corner. Another patient was sleeping and next to him on the bed was his wife, also sleeping soundly.

I had to ask why there were so many people surrounding the patients; the answer was that they had to attend to the needs of the patients.

Although it was years ago, I remembered my own experience at the hospital when my wife was having a baby. I asked the nurse for some drinking water for my wife and then got up to get it myself, as I did not want to wait. The nurse, who returned with the water shortly, reminded me that it was her duty to take care of the patient.

On our way out of the hospital here in Seoul, my staff members and I happened to walk by the emergency room. I was shocked to see that patients were left unattended in the hallway, as there was no room for them in the emergency room.

The patients were crying out in pain, and doctors rushed in and out of the emergency room to take care of patients in the hallway. I was worried that the bottles of intravenous drip would break from collisions amid the busy foot and cart traffic.

I thought such scenes only existed these days in movies like "Pearl Harbor."

After the visit, I became interested in Korean hospitals and learned many things. A colleague of mine told me about his experience at a children's hospital. After hearing the story, I asked if I could accompany him on his next visit to the hospital to experience it for myself. (Sorry if I sound like a "strange foreigner.")

When I accompanied my friend the next time, we had to wait over an hour and a half to see the doctor, just as my colleague had told me earlier. After all the waiting, the total time the doctor spent examining the sick child was no more than five minutes.

I did not know that Korean doctors, although it may not be all of them, suffered from such a crushing workload. At the children's hospital I visited, I was surprised at how many children the doctor had to see, without a break, in the limited time available to him.

There seemed to be no time at all for the doctors to rest from their hard work. One thing I know for sure, though, is that during the two hours I was there, the doctor saw a continuous stream of patients without a bathroom break.

After visiting the hospital on two occasions, I realized that in Korea, both patients and doctors suffer. It appears that family members of the patients also have their share of suffering.

I am not a medical specialist, so I do not know why the Korean medical system has made so little progress. Nor do I have the solutions for how patients can be better cared for or how a better environment can be provided for doctors to work in.

But I can say that patients and doctors have a right to a better environment than they have now.


The writer is the president of DaimlerChrysler Korea.

by Wayne Chumley

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