Ease local regulations on telemedicine

2024. 3. 3. 20:08
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We cannot go on experimenting with trial service. It would be best for the outgoing members of the National Assembly pass the bill within their term.

Telemedicine has been available in Korea for nine months on a trial basis. While digital healthcare services are common in most advanced countries, a full legalization is yet to take place in this country. The service was temporarily allowed during the Covid-19 period and then came to a stop after the pandemic was over. The government and the People Power Party (PPP) have been trying to amend the Medical Act to legalize telehealth care, but the bill is still stuck in the National Assembly due to strong protests from the medical community.

Due to the legislative bottleneck, the government endorsed a trial service from June last year — with multiple constraints such as a ban on acceptance of first-time patients, which drew scorn from doctors about the effectiveness of the service.

Six months later, the government came up with some practical amendments, extending the service to first-time patients during weekends and after-business hours. But patients in need have been still complaining about inaccessibility of the service.

Amid the stagnation at home, digital healthcare platforms are taking their services overseas. Dr. Now, the current industry leader, last month said it was establishing a local subsidiary in Japan to enter the market.

In Japan, first-time patients, too, can get remote medical care and receive prescribed medicine by delivery. Some Korean medical platforms are aiming for Thailand, Vietnam, and other markets in Southeast Asia. Korean telemedicine platform operators’ forays overseas should be cheered. But it is a pity that they are forced to bring their service to foreign countries due to stifling regulations at home.

The government has lifted regulations on telemedicine only temporarily to lessen inconvenience for patients amid the collective walkout and resignations by trainee doctors in big hospitals. While the liberalization itself is welcomed, the timing and idea are not commendable.

As telehealth service mostly helps patients with light or chronic sicknesses, it cannot be of any relief to serious and urgent patients. The services will once again roll back after major hospitals run normally after trainee doctors return to their hospital. Before it becomes too late, legal grounds for telemedicine should be established to kick-start the business.

We cannot go on experimenting with trial service. It would be best for the outgoing members of the National Assembly pass the bill within their term. If not, the new National Assembly after the April 10 parliamentary election must deal with it as one of its first agendas. The rival parities must not forget that the current medical crisis is directly linked to public health.

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