Specialization hurts basic medical care

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Specialization hurts basic medical care

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Not long ago, my throat was sore and I had a hard time swallowing, so I made an appointment with an otolaryngologist, who looked into my nose and throat with a sinus endoscope. Afterward, he suggested scheduling vocal cord surgery to give me a clear, charming voice. I later learned that the clinic specializes in vocal cord care.

When I suffered from symptoms related to kidney stones, I met with a urologist. But he said his clinic specialized in “enlargement” surgery and did not have the equipment to diagnose kidney stones. I went to see an ophthalmologist because of my blurry vision, and after various tests, he recommended a newly developed surgery that can improve farsightedness due to aging.

I’ve talked to a number of doctors about this topic. One said plastic surgeons are responsible for the shift from practical procedures to cosmetic surgery. Another said that plastic surgeons once took pride in performing highly advanced surgeries, and could reconnect every single muscle, vein and nerve on all 10 fingers severed in a factory accident, but the culture has totally changed.

I was on a bus traveling through Apgujeong-dong and Sinsa-dong in Seoul, the areas south of the river where plastic surgery clinics are clustered. The bus played commercials for the clinics, and the backs of the seats were covered with advertisements showing before-and-after photos of surgeries. They were explicitly saying that without cosmetic surgery, you could miss out on a job opportunity or a relationship.

Many people save money and get loans to pay for surgery and procedures. Do the laws and regulations of Korea really allow this? Questions continue. Just in time, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family recently researched the harmful advertisements on online media. Among the 210 cases that the ministry caught, 38.1 percent were clinic and hospital advertisements, followed by sexual-improvement programs at 18.6 percent and cosmetic products at 13.1 percent.

Supply comes from demand. Supporters say many people are content with their new looks, and some surgeries are medically necessary. But if the potential demand is incited by stimulating human desire, necessary medical services may be neglected. Harvard School of Public Health Dean Howard Hiatt said that when an otolaryngologist moves into the neighborhood, people start to have throat problems. Dr. Hiatt is the author of the modern classic “Medical Lifeboat: Will There Be Room for You in the Health Care System?” The 1989 book, which criticized the modern medical system, is still relevant because so little has changed. We need to think seriously about the social problems we will have when limited medical resources move toward profitable specialties that are not covered by health insurance, rather than the basic treatment of illnesses.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY CHAE IN-TAEK

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