Some clinics aren’t cleaning endoscopes very well

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Some clinics aren’t cleaning endoscopes very well

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An endoscope, found by a repairman, that hadn’t been thoroughly disinfected by a clinic that used it in Seoul By Kim Do-hoon

At a medical clinic in Jongno District, central Seoul, a crowd of about 30 people is waiting to undergo endoscopies on the morning of Nov. 5.


Endoscopies, or internal examinations of the body using mechanical probes, are ordinary features of medical checkups in Korea, particularly to look for stomach cancer.

As one patient enters the endoscopy room, another who just finished a gastroscopy, an examination of the stomach, comes out.

This Jongno clinic is visited by 400 patients a day in November and December, its busiest time of year because many people do physical checkups at the end of the year.

Of the total, about 300 are there for gastroscopy examinations of their stomachs.

But the traffic pattern reveals a very worrying phenomenon. The number of endoscopes being used at the clinic is around 20. With 300 endoscopies a day, it would take 10 hours or more for all the procedures to be completed, unless a shortcut is taken.

The shortcut: not sterilizing the probes for the required 30 minutes.

“It is almost impossible to conduct a 30-minute sterilization on an endoscope when so many patients come for examinations during the busy year-end period,” admitted a nurse, surnamed Lim, at the clinic in Jongno.

Other private medical centers visited by JoongAng Ilbo reporters showed poor maintenance measures for endoscopes.

“Many health screening firms skip many parts of what should be a thorough endoscope cleaning to save money,” the director of a medical equipment manufacturing company said.

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The maintenance standard for endoscopes requires instruments to be cleaned with a disinfectant for at least 20 minutes and hung in a special cleaning box.

Poor maintenance of endoscopes has led to government warnings to 24 medical clinics, according to Representative Kim Yong-ik of the Democratic United Party, citing findings by the National Health Insurance Corporation.

Another 60 clinics were found to lack guidelines or standard manuals regarding the proper use of endoscopes.

Based on a notification by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, endoscopes must undergo a “high level” of sterilization that eliminates all forms of microorganisms as the instrument can carry HIV, strains of hepatitis and an assortment of other infections.

The medical industry points to heated competition among physical examination centers trying to attract patients with lower charges.

“A physical examination should cost around 400,000 won [$365] to 500,000 won for each patient,” said an official at one of the clinics.

“But with the current examination fee set at around 200,000 won, the speed at which a procedure is conducted has become a top priority.”

By Lee Jeong-bong, Song Ji-young [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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