Don’t take patients hostage

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Don’t take patients hostage

The Korean Medical Association has decided to launch a one-day collective strike today with the participation of some intern and resident physicians. Doctors taking patients hostage for their interests is unacceptable. They must listen to an appeal from a patients’ association before taking off their white coats. At a press conference on Friday, the association denounced doctors for taking innocent patients hostage rather than resolving their complaints through talks with the government. The patients’ group lambasted the doctors’ collective action for lacking any rationale.

The doctors announced an agreement with the government after six rounds of talks before the collective strike. Yet they reneged on the agreement to enter their unconscionable action. They can hardly expect a 100 percent satisfactory result from their consultative meetings with the government because the latter must first consider the health of patients. The doctors’ decision to scrap an agreement with the Ministry of Health and Welfare to settle the dispute through further discussion is utterly regrettable.

The KMA cites the government’s plan to allow remote medical examinations and treatment as well as the establishment of for-profit subsidiaries of medical corporations as the main reason for their strike. But the medical diagnosis and treatment through telemedicine systems offers great benefits to patients in remote areas, the elderly and handicapped, not to mention those with chronic diseases. Doctors, too, can’t avoid the age of information and communication technology.

Of course, the government needs to be prudent in introducing the remote examinations and treatment, which would replace conventional face-to-face examinations and treatment. It would be better to apply the remote caring first to monitoring and counseling patients with chronic illnesses and expand the scope gradually. For-profit subsidiaries for medical corporations also would be better served if they focused on attracting overseas patients and advancement of our hospitals overseas.

The doctors’ group argues that exceptionally low charges for medical treatment often lead to over-diagnosis and treatment. But a study by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs indicates the charges are actually higher than the original cost, if you include their medical examinations and treatment not covered by the national health insurance. But doctors must not forget that their collective strike only damages their reputation as a respected professional group. They must understand the walkout would lead to a critical loss of the public’s trust.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 10, Page 34

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