The important ‘golden hour’The “golden hour” refers to a period lasting up to 60 minutes. Emergency medical measures following traumatic injury that can raise the chances of survival of the victim. It took 210 minutes for a man in his 50s hit by a truck in Yongin, Gyeonggi, to arrive at an operating room. The operation took place immediately but he remains in a critical condition because he wasn’t treated within the “golden hour.”
The surgery was performed by Lee Guk-jong, the same doctor from Ajou University Hospital who treated Seok Hye-gyun, the captain of the Samho Jewelry freighter who was shot during a rescue mission after being held by Somali pirates.
Lee publicly raged about the poor state of emergency medical assistance in the country.
The latest victim lay bleeding in a general hospital for nearly three hours because there is not a single trauma center in the entire country. Another 52 minutes were wasted on waiting for a borrowed firefighting helicopter because there are no special helicopters for paramedics. The helicopter that finally came was unequipped with basic supplies or equipment for emergency care and treatment. The reality is especially shocking for a country that prides itself on its advanced medical service and standards.
According to the National Health Insurance Corp., about 613,392 critically ill patients were admitted to emergency hospital rooms in 2007 alone. Of them, 28,359 died. But the state entity concluded that 33 percent of them, or 9,245 lives could have saved if they had received quick medical assistance and treatment. In advanced societies, the rate of “preventable deaths” is below 10 percent.
In order to reduce the deaths, we need a paramedic transport system as well as more trained specialists and hospitals. The field of traumatology released its first 84 surgeons last year. Doctors, however, shun the special field of treating injuries caused by accidents or violence since it does not pay well. Lee said he has been working hard for the last year, but discovered he incurred a deficit of more than 800 million won ($739,000) for the hospital.
The Health and Welfare Ministry last year proposed to set up six trauma centers equipped with helicopters. The state-run think tank, Korea Development Institute, however, advised against the plan citing “low profitability.” But the rule of economy should not be applied to a business that can save as much as 10,000 lives a year. In a life-or-death moment, time is everything.