Telemedicine for the public goodTelemedicine programs, which apply IT technology to health care, emerged as a promising medical service for long-distance patients in rural areas a decade ago. State-of-the-art technology now allows physicians to examine and treat patients from far away distances. Telemedicine is widely used in the United States and other advanced countries as a means to save on health care costs primarily for the elderly.
Though developing countries are struggling with high mortality rates and poor health care due to a critical lack of medical infrastructure, innovations can help narrow the breaches and blind spots in medical services. Many believe a global demand for long-distance telemedicine will soon surge as seen in advanced countries’ aggressive promotion of it as a new growth engine.
Telemedicine could bring wonders to our country, too. Despite the fact that rural areas, the underprivileged and elderly are still deprived of proper medical care, we are best qualified to breed the telemedicine industry as our doctors and hospitals boast world-class standards and the country is one of the most wired globally. Yet the new field lags far behind due to a plethora of government regulations.
The government is well aware of the need to foster telemedicine. It actually included the concept in the medical and health care law in 2002. In doing so, however, it pegged various regulations to the services. For example, doctors in different regions can confer with one another in medical treatments, but teleconferencing between a physician and a patient is prohibited. Telemedicine cannot be practiced in emergency situations, either.
The red tape was added because of the resistance from doctors. The Korean Medical Association has recently issued a statement opposing the spread of telemedicine services. They are against it because the responsibility for a medical accident would be blurred between the medical professionals and telecommunications companies when it occurs. They are also worried that once telemedicine technology becomes commonplace, patients will prefer large and better-known urban hospitals.
Their anxieties are understandable, but nevertheless not enough to jeopardize a service that can help boost jobs and growth. The issue of accountability can be solved through better insurance policies. Of course, small clinics could lose their patients and the profits, but the loss can’t be compared to the huge loss for the country. Obstacles to the service should be cleared. Doctors must put aside their own interests for the greater interests of public health.