Doctors permitted to treat overseas Koreans over the phone
The government on Thursday passed a bill that temporarily permits remote medical services to support overseas Koreans without access to sufficient health care amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy approved eight items during a regulatory review committee, the first of which temporarily allows "untact" medical diagnosis and consultation services for Koreans living abroad.
Untact is a portmanteau of the prefix “un” and contact, meaning “no contact.”
The decision came as Inha University Hospital and medical institutions, in partnership with LifeSemantics, a medical data services company, requested exceptions to the regulations.
The exemption will last for two years.
Telemedicine services will be provided by Inha University Hospital as well as Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, the Catholic University of Korea Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital and Asan Medical Center, the three medical centers partnered with LifeSemantics.
“The bill is intended to protect the health of overseas Koreans with communication difficulties or low-quality medical services abroad,” said Kim Yong-rae, head of the ministry’s office of industry and enterprise innovation.
The hospitals will have access to the medical records of Korean patients living abroad uploaded through an online platform.
Doctors will diagnose patients via video or audio calls.
Patients can ask doctors to issue prescriptions or ask their opinion of prescriptions given by doctors in the country they are currently living in.
The Health and Welfare Ministry is hoping to institutionalize the service after the two-year trial.
The government also authorized the remote use of smart glove, an exoskeleton system that help patients with debilitating illnesses like polio or cerebral palsy to retain some movements.
Patients will be able to get consulting on rehabilitation exercises and therapy via video calls.
The government expects the remote service to not only alleviate the physical difficulties of outpatient treatment, but also ease the financial burden. Currently, the government estimates the cost of participating in rehabilitation programs to be around 560,000 won ($465) a month.
The smart glove, developed by start-up Neofect, allows the data from patients to be transmitted to the hospital when wearing the glove.
“There have been requests [for remote treatment] overseas, as despite 60 [Korean] construction workers in the Middle East contracting Covid-19, the Middle Eastern countries prioritize treating their own nationals,” said Kim Yong-rae, the ministry official. “In the case of the smart glove, we expect it will reduce the inconvenience of rehabilitation therapy including [the need] for guardians to accompany patients, having to use public transportation and having to wait for long hours.”
BY HEO JEONG-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]