[VIEWPOINT]A much-needed prescriptionOf all the solutions that have been proposed to revive the Korean medical profession, which is on the verge of dying out, medical industrialization holds the most weight. Medically advanced countries introduced medical industrialization decades ago, and some fast-moving Asian countries targeted it years ago as an important industry for the future, getting their governments involved in the matter.
Other nations are in the running, but we are not even at the starting line. This is mainly because Korean society still considers medicine a welfare issue, not an economic one. This might seem appropriate, but there is a trap involved. The trap is that when we become comfortable with this point of view, we naturally will fall behind in achievements in biotechnology, such as developing new treatment methods or technology. As a result, patients have to pay more to receive the latest treatments developed overseas, and our dependency on foreign technology as a nation will increase.
No one doubts that biotechnology is a major industry for the 21st century that can bring a country both health and national wealth, or that it is a goose that lays golden eggs. This is all the more true because it involves new paradigms for an industry of the future including pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and other up-to-date medical technologies. Hospitals are at the center of it. Therefore, Korean medical service has a definite need to develop through a process of industrialization. It needs to make a few improvements if we are going to compete.
First, we need to expand public medical treatment. The percentage of sick people for whose treatment the government takes responsibility is 95 percent in England, 65 percent in France and 34 percent in America. In Japan, whose system is similar to ours, the figure is 36 percent. Korea’s is only 15 percent.
Second, recognizing medical corporations in order to give support to private medical services is another method. Medical corporations are useful because they can raise funds that can be reinvested in the medical field. However, the approval of corporations must come with the precondition that contributions will be actively made. Making philantrhopy a social issue, and supporting individual and corporate contributors with tax benefits, would also be a realistic and desirable solution. Meeting operational needs with donated funds, which is the way the best medical centers of the world function, is a model we should pursue.
Third, a private, supplemental insurance system that fits the needs of everyone should be introduced. Some say a personal insurance system should be introduced that’s just like the public insurance system, but in reality, this would cause problems. Koreans pay their insurance premiums relative to how much they earn; if personal insurance were introduced, the people who earn the most would be the first to leave the public system. This would lead to financial problems and ultimately bankruptcy for the public insurance system.
Introducing personal insurance for certain categories, such as new treatments or diagnostic methods, to supplement public insurance would be best. This way, the needs of patients who want higher-quality medical examinations would be met, and new treatment methods could be introduced smoothly.
Medical industrialization is no longer an option; it’s mandatory. Other countries are already pursuing it, and we have no more time to spare. The government and the medical profession need to open their hearts and put their heads together for the development of our country in the 21st century, and for a farsighted national policy toward our people’s health.
* The writer is the director of the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Rhee Jong-chul