Averting medical ‘refugees’

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Averting medical ‘refugees’

As the war with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) drags on, concerns arise over an acute shortage of hospitals, emergency rooms and medical staff to treat general patients. Doctors and nurses are increasingly exhausted due to the protracted battle with the MERS outbreak, while a considerable number of hospitals are even shutting down their emergency rooms in fears of potential infections. As a result, worries are growing over how to deal with other patients who are stuck in nearly closed hospitals.

In addition, general outpatients who need diagnosis, surgery or prescriptions are increasingly reluctant to go to hospitals because of possible infection. The protracted fight with the potentially lethal virus has reached a point where it can wreak havoc on our overall medical sector. Despite the government’s designation of more than 160 hospitals across the nation as “safe hospitals,” citizens wonder if such a stopgap measure can really fill the gap. The government’s fumbled response to the fatal outbreak helped worsen the stalemate. Public health authorities must heed public discontent with the ominous gap in our medical industry.

The government must find efficient ways to help patients suffering from illnesses other than MERS receive proper medical care. That would be the minimum it can do to avert chaos. The government must establish detailed guidelines for outpatients who have trouble accessing their hospitals or finding new ones for diagnosis and treatment. The central government must present such guidelines in collaboration with local governments and medical circles.

Above all, detailed instructions on how to deliver general patients’ medical records to other hospitals are needed. The government must also provide information on how outpatients can receive essential prescription drugs for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney malfunctions as before. The government, local administrations and medical sector must share the burden to offer necessary medical services to patients.

At the same time, the government must find effective ways to provide financial support to MERS-stricken hospitals so they can survive. The government should not allow our entire medical system to be hit by the outbreak. It must take special care of other patients in intensive care units who have to leave public medical institutions for private ones, as most of them hail from the underprivileged class. Preventing them from turning into “medical refugees” is as important as fighting the outbreak.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 17, Page 30

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