Faulty medical cultureKorea is infamous for its unique medical environment. People who feel sick bounce from hospital to hospital, usually trying to get into one of the big ones. When they get admitted, their family members move into the hospital room with them to provide care. The country also has a peculiar ward setup in which one room is shared by several patients except cases involving serious infectious illnesses. After a short field trip to monitor the rapid spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in Korea, a joint evaluation team comprised of World Health Organization staff and Korean medical experts on Saturday pointed out that such practices played a big part in the worsening of the outbreak.
In fact, Korean medical circles have long cited such practices as major loopholes in our medical system. One of the most chronic problems can be found in patients moving to a bigger hospital for better treatment. Due to the deep-rooted preference for big hospitals, emergency rooms at large university and general hospitals in Seoul and Gyeonggi province have transformed into big waiting rooms for patients looking for better treatment. Experts say that is the result of abnormally low charges for diagnosis and treatment at large hospitals as a result of the generous public health insurance system.
Such a distorted medical service delivery system can trigger a swift proliferation of infectious diseases like MERS. The government must take the ongoing MERS attack as an opportunity to mend such a lopsided medical consumption system, in which patients rush to big hospitals in the Seoul metropolitan area. The government must help emergency rooms cope with infections and eliminate unnecessary health risks from susceptible groups.
The joint examination team also singled out the practice of friends and relatives moving into hospitals to take care of patients as a major culprit in the current outbreak. Hospitals can control relatives and friends’ visits even now and they should do much more of that in the future.
The medical industry must also demonstrate a determination to curb the rampant internal infections at hospitals by improving their systems of control. At the same time, friends and relatives must refrain from visiting hospitals for the sake of formality and medical centers must also reconsider their deep-seated practice of demanding the accompaniment of such friends and relatives.
Korea must overcome the crisis no matter what. It is time for our hospitals to improve their systems and the government must play its part to raise our medical safety.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 15, Page 30