Agreement improves prognosisThe government and the Korea Medical Association, which had threatened to begin a six-day walkout starting Monday, struck an agreement in many areas contested by doctors. They agreed to a six-month trial of remote medical services via computer and to evaluate the effects on clinics and small-town hospitals, as well as on the overall health care industry, before deciding whether to legalize the service. On another contentious issue - allowing hospitals to run affiliates for extra revenue - the government agreed to create a panel with physicians and dentists to try to find a solution everyone can agree on. Both the government and the doctors’ association appear to be happy about the progress of their dialogue, raising hopes that next week’s general hospital strike might be avoided.
The tentative agreement addressed many old and new issues for physicians. The government agreed to include civilians on the policy-making board of the national health insurance service to better reflect the positions of physicians and the medical sector, and to create an arbitration committee for the renegotiation of medical fees if the medical association and national insurance agency fail to reach an agreement. Both sides discussed addressing the rigorous work conditions and long hours for doctors in training. The government last April reduced the maximum number of work hours per week for doctors in training from more than 100 to 80, but since that remains far greater than the average of 48 hours in Europe and other developed countries, it offered a further reduction.
The work environment for trainees cannot be improved overnight. The government and medical association must come up with a road map to gradually reduce the share of training doctors, who account for 90 percent of all resident doctors in hospitals. What can be done immediately should be done, and other changes should progress incrementally. Young doctors should put aside their emotions and rationally address their demands and needs.
Doctors in clinics and training have sufficiently voiced their concerns. The public has learned that doctors, too, work in harsh conditions. The government has heard their problems and complaints about the medical system and policies. They have agreed to seek solutions. Doctors, therefore, should not reach the wrong conclusion in their vote. If they reject the tentative agreement and waste an opportunity for productive solutions, they must be ready to face wide public and consumer resentment.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 18, Page 30