Time to introduce telemedicineThe presidential office and government have begun to discuss the need for enabling telemedicine, which is a welcomed move amid a nationwide and global outbreak of an infectious disease. Kim Yeon-myung, senior presidential secretary on social affairs, told a closed-door seminar for the ruling lawmakers elected during the April elections, that the government was ¡°positively reviewing¡± telemedicine. Kim Yong-beom, vice finance and economy minister, also in a press briefing said ¡°non-face-to-face¡± medical service should be ¡°proactively¡± studied. The expertise sector including the presidential committee on the fourth industrial revolution has been repeatedly calling for telemedicine services. Although the move comes quite late, the government should move fast.
Telemedicine is common in the United States, where an association for the sector was established in 1993. China has succeeded in conducting remote surgery on a 5G network. Korea has the best IT and remote medical technologies, but companies had to take their services overseas because they are outlawed at home. Korea will become excluded in the global competition over remote health care if it does not fix regulations.
Korea has the best environment for telemedicine. Its medical service and technology has gained international recognition through the Covid-19 event. The country has also the most advanced ICT power. But remote communication has been strictly restricted since 2002. Doctors are banned from seeing or treating a patient remotely.
The medical community has strongly protested remote medical services on the grounds that they provide inaccurate diagnosis, create privacy issues and can damage small clinics and hospitals. Moreover, the liberal force, now the ruling party, has been opposed to for-profit hospital services. The Democratic Party has sided with civilian groups to protest telemedicine studies under conservative governments. It refused to agree to revise the medical law to allow restricted telemedicine services to remote villages, military camps and fishing ship crews.
The latest move immediately drew protests from the medical community. Choi Dae-zip, president of the Korean Medical Association, said the government is ¡°stabbing¡± the backs of doctors who have been devoted to fighting Covid-19. He warned doctors could cease cooperating in fighting off the virus. Telemedicine can be damaging to private hospitals. But the medical and overall society must prepare for a new environment. The medical community must talk things out with the government to come up with the best possible solution instead of putting personal interests first.
Even without another pandemic, the demand for telemedicine will increase due to a surge in the aged population. There has not been serious side effects from the restricted telemedicine service during the Covid-19 outbreak. The ruling party should put aside their outdated ideological belief and study the employment of telemedicine for greater accessibility to medical services.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 15, Page 34