ERs to send rookie residents home

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ERs to send rookie residents home

At a university hospital in Gyeonggi, there are around 120 resident doctors doing night duty looking after patients in the emergency room. They have one or two years of experience as residents after finishing their one-year internships.

From August, those neophyte doctors are being sent home. Doctors in their first or second years of residency will be prohibited from giving patients emergency medical treatment at hospitals following an amendment to the country’s Emergency Medical Services Act passed by the National Assembly last year.

According to the revised act, only professional doctors with their own specialties or resident physicians with three or four years experience will be allowed to stand by at emergency rooms. Hospitals that don’t obey will get hit with 2 million won ($1,730) penalties.

The National Assembly was trying to improve the quality of emergency room treatment, which has long relied on residents with less than two years of experience.

Late last year, a 32-year-old patient surnamed Park went to an emergency room at night because of a severe stomachache, and he complained later that he wasn’t given proper treatment.

“Three to four interns and residents alternately checked on the area where I felt pain,” he said. “If I had met a medical specialist with more experience, I wouldn’t have suffered at the emergency room as much as I did and would have been cured faster.”

A professor at a university hospital in Seoul said, “It’s time that Korea amends the Emergency Medical Services Act that has been in force for 20 years this year.”

“It’s less risky for patients to have professional doctors make medical decisions rather than residents with one or two years of experience,” the professor said. As for other countries like the United States, only medical specialists are allowed to treat patients at emergency rooms. The U.S. changed its law in the early 1990s after enacting an emergency medical act in 1973.

Residents and hospitals, however, are opposing the change in the law. They argue that emergency room treatments will overburden third-year residents and the quality of medical treatment will suffer. Hospitals say using actual medical specialists will be way too expensive.

The new law is attracting particularly strong resistance from hospitals in rural areas that already don’t have enough professionals to look after patients. The Korea Intern Association said yesterday it will hold a rally against the law today in front of the Korean Medical Association building in Yongsan District, central Seoul.

“At some hospitals in rural areas, a resident with three years experience covers treatments for urgent patients, outpatients and critical patients alone,” said Kyung Moon-bae, policy director at the Korea Intern Association. Kyung is also in his second year of residency at Korea University Anam Hospital. “If more pressure is put on the residents, they will not be able to look after patients properly.

“Doctors at hospitals on the outskirts of Seoul already work an average of more than 100 hours per week,” he said. “It’s impossible to have them work more than that.”

Once the law goes into effect next month, the KIA plans on holding a meeting with its board of directors to discuss collective action, including holding a strike. In 2000, KAI’s members went on strike for six months to oppose the government’s decision to separate dispensaries from medical practices.

By Shin Sung-sik, Park Su-ryon [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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