Turning a crisis into an opportunityThe strange virus from the Middle East placed the country in a turmoil. The government and politicians seemed clueless and some citizens acted imprudently, but I want to highlight the positive aspects that Korea has learned from the experience. The government has learned the hard way from actual training, so it should be able to establish a near-perfect manual based on the experience. Politicians must have realized that attention-drawing moves cause more confusion than resolution. Koreans now understand that we need to improve our civic awareness.
Firstly, we need to invest in the medical industry. Hospitals around the country are struggling with deficits as they are constantly pressured by civic groups, which are focused on public contributions to medical services, and the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, which is obsessed with financial retrenchment. More than 5,000 hospitals and clinics go bankrupt or shut down. They cannot afford to reinvest in more convenient and hygienic environments, and they can barely avoid deficits by treating as many patients as possible. The government also requires hospitals to have multi-bed rooms, which make up 80 percent of all hospital rooms. These policies, meant to benefit citizens, ironically fanned the epidemic.
Second, the Ministry of Health and Welfare should be normalized from its abnormal state as a tool for populist politics.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare oversees health and medical services and welfare. Key posts, including the minister and vice minister, are welfare specialists. Because populist politics is based on welfare, past administrations have focused on welfare, and medical and health services have been sidelined for years.
This abnormal state is reflected in the operation of public health clinics. When their core function is health services, epidemic control and disease prevention, they focus on providing free treatment and medicine administration, even in areas with sufficient private clinics, making their operation harder. If they had been faithful to their original role, the epidemic could have been controlled better.
A crisis can be an opportunity, and after rain comes fair weather. I am optimistic about the future of Korea’s medical industry.
Kim Hyo-soo, Professor of internal medicine at Seoul National University Hospital