[Viewpoint]The medical law changes benefit patientsThe current medical law system has been in place for 34 years, since the last revision in 1973. Since then, medical technology has progressed rapidly. The medical environment has gone from using personal, face-to-face examinations and paper charts to making remote diagnoses and using electronic charts.
Some argue that the medical law should be revised to reflect these developments.
Therefore, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has been working to revise the law over 10 meetings since August, with six major medical organizations, including the Korean Medical Association, the Korean Dental Association and the Association of Korean Oriental Medicine, as well as related experts from civic groups.
The new medical law amendments reinforce the subjectivity of the patient and pursue the industrialization of medicine through the easing of regulations.
In order to protect the rights of patients, the medical law amendment requires doctors to provide explanations to them and prohibits the fabrication and alteration of medical records. Also, it allows family members of a patient suffering from a chronic condition to obtain a prescription, setting standard diagnosis guidelines. It also newly defines night duty in wards, hospital contagion control and the required continuing medical education.
On the other hand, various regulations have been relaxed to allow medical institutions to seek a profit. Hospitals and clinics can now run advertisements for their services and are allowed to merge and acquire one another. For treatments not covered by health insurance, such as plastic surgery or implant surgery, clinics can set their own prices and advertise to patients.
Also, if the amendment passes the National Assembly, doctors, dentists and doctors of Oriental medicine can begin to open clinics together. In this case, local clinics, not just general hospitals, can offer both internal medicine and dental services or provide an integrated service with both Western and Oriental medicine. Moreover, anesthesiologists and other specialists can freelance without opening a clinic.
Civic groups are concerned that when medical service becomes industrialized as a result of the medical law amendment, the public good that medicine provides might be undermined and the health inequality among regions and classes could worsen, not to mention medical costs might soar.
The Korean Medical Association is more fiercely opposed. The doctors have launched a committee to fight the medical law revision and are prepared to strike.
They argue that the amendment does not specify “administration of medicine” as one of the doctors’ medical practices, and therefore limits the practice of the doctors.
Also, the duties of the nurses include a “nursing diagnosis,” which, doctors say, violates the boundaries of their jobs. The amendment defines the standard diagnosis guidelines in order to prevent excessive diagnoses and treatments, but the doctors oppose that, saying the practice of medicine cannot be standardized. The continuing education required every 12 years might also turn into a virtual license renewal system, they say.
Nevertheless, they show a double standard as they agree on the integrated practice of Western and Oriental medicines and nurses’ night duty systems while demanding the right to administer medicine.
The center of the medical law should be the patients. The patients should be able to receive treatment at their own will and receive accurate medical information. Even in a nighttime emergency situation, patients should be able to get treated by doctors and have the constitutional right to receive medical service that meets the contemporary standards.
In order to guarantee these rights, the amendment requires medical practitioners to provide explanations and faithfully keep medical records. Furthermore, the on-duty medical staff system and the required continuing education have been proposed for the same reason.
The medical law should be revised from the point of view of the patients. The patients’ right to decide for themselves must be guaranteed. There should be a system for patients to request the transfer of medical information to another medical institution or to keep it for themselves. The purpose of the medical industrialization policy is to provide quality medical service at a low cost. It should not be misunderstood as taking profit from the lives of the patients.
The nation should establish a solid medical system and revise the National Health Insurance Act at the same time so patients are not concentrated into a certain sector.
In order to help medical institutions strengthen their competitiveness, they should be provided with assistance such as scholarships for medical professionals, appropriate compensation for medical fees and long-term, low-interest loans.
*The writer is an attorney and the chairman of the health and medical committee of the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Shin Hyun-ho