Modern equipment is unnecessary
The longstanding rivalry between doctors of Western and Oriental medicine has been rekindled. The Association of Korean (Oriental) Medicine has formed a task force to campaign against a regulation that forbids the use of medical equipment by acupuncturists and doctors of Oriental medicine. Doctors of traditional medicine are arguing that they cannot conduct simple diagnoses because they are prohibited from using modern technology due to opposition from doctors of Western medicine and the general stand-offishness of health authorities. The Korea Medical Association claims that access to modern Western technology by doctors of traditional medicine would undermine public health and goes against medical laws and licensing regulations.
The government came up with the novel idea of lifting the ban on doctors of Oriental medicine using modern medical equipment as a part of efforts to revitalize the service sector and the local economy.
But this is easier said than done. The medical sector often does not work under market principles. It is not a realm that can be solely ruled and approached through market-economy reasoning.
The previous administration attempted to liberalize licensing for medical professionals. But the plan was overturned over concerns about safety and ethical problems.
Human lives and safety are of the utmost value of the medical field. Aspiring physicians must undergo rigorous training for more than five years upon graduating medical school because human lives cannot be taken lightly.
Licenses must be issued to persons who have been thoroughly educated and trained and are qualified to deal with the specialized line of work. These are rudimentary safety protections for consumers and public safety and interests.
The Korean medical system is comprised of three branches - Oriental medicine, Western medicine and dentistry. Licenses are issued separately. Assuming a physician has sat in lectures on dentistry and Oriental medicine for a semester or two, he or she, however, does not become eligible to practice the two medical fields.
Driving licenses also are issued differently upon the type of vehicle. Even if a doctor of Oriental medicine studied medical science, he or she cannot be relied upon to be skilled enough to handle modern medical equipment.
In medical school, even with the completion of courses in medical science and after undergoing internship and residency training, X-ray or sonogram readings can only be fully trusted with radiology specialists.
Surgeons and other specialists have to turn to radiologists for accurate diagnosis and reading. It is therefore amateurish and shows a lack of understanding in the medical field to claim medical equipment can be handled by simply taking courses while in medical school.
Western medical technology is hardly perfect. Oriental medicine is gaining more and more interest and attention from Western societies because of limitations in Western medicine.
But that does not mean doctors of Oriental medicine are allowed to practice medicine in the established realm of medical fields and apply it to treat patients in Western societies.
It is not because Oriental medicine doctors are unqualified. They are welcome and are often asked to share insights and expertise to better treat patients in Western medicine.
Physicians must obtain a license in a certain medical field in order to branch out into other fields. Operations in special areas are only allowed for surgical doctors who have both medical practice and dentistry licenses. Such regulations are necessary to ensure the safety of patients. Local Oriental hospitals already hire radiologists to seek scientific expertise for treatment.
If modern medical equipment is allowed in Oriental hospitals without any limitations, patients will be burdened with unnecessary examination costs.
One of the biggest complaints among health care consumers is excessive examination procedures and cost. The doctors of Oriental Medicine who are claiming that patients would benefit from better service and less cost if they are allowed to access modern medical technology are utterly misleading.
It is also irresponsible and immature to argue that the public demands liberty in the use of modern equipment for Oriental medical treatments.
For any doctors in any field, the interests of patients should come first. Instead of lifting one regulation in the field, authorities should study broader measures to ultimately combine Oriental and Western medicine and direct medical education and a licensing system in a future-oriented way.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of Korea University Medical School.
by Ahn Duck-sun