Government mulls reforms in health care

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Government mulls reforms in health care

The Health and Welfare Ministry on Tuesday relayed broad plans to reform local hospitals in response to rising calls for drastic changes to the country’s health care system amid the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

A ministry-affiliated task force responsible for controlling the crisis here said a package of comprehensive measures based on the suggestions mentioned Tuesday will be officially announced later this month after further internal discussion.

Heeding assessments that the disease’s spread was due in large part to sloppiness by medical personnel, overcrowding in emergency wards and multi-bed hospital rooms, the health authority vowed to overhaul the hospital system, mainly by downsizing rooms.

Six-person rooms will mostly be reduced to four-person rooms, while patients with infectious diseases will be isolated for medical treatment. Without providing further detail, the ministry was hopeful that adjustments to Korea’s national health insurance would likely encourage hospitals to follow through.

Run by Korea’s top conglomerate and formerly regarded as the best hospital in the country, Samsung Medical Center partially shut down indefinitely after it was revealed that the establishment was a mass transmission site for MERS.

More than 80 infections were traced back to the hospital, most of which were connected to Patient No. 14, who rapidly spread the virus over three days in the center’s emergency ward.

A plan to develop hospitals’ medical standards in treating infected patients was also brought up. In response, the ministry said it would increase personnel and begin consultation programs for small and midsize hospitals.

Kwon Deok-cheol, an official with the Health Ministry who leads the Office of Healthcare Policy, stressed the need to strengthen links between hospitals of different sizes, claiming that it was unnecessary for people with minor ailments to flood large hospitals.

A joint mission by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Health Ministry blamed Korea’s medical culture for perpetuating the MERS outbreak, stating that Koreans’ practice of seeking care at many different medical facilities, also known as “doctor shopping,” led to the spread of infection.

No additional MERS cases were reported Tuesday and the death toll also remained unchanged. One more patient successfully recovered and left the hospital.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JUNG JONG-HOON [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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