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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on March 23)

Editorials from Korean dailies 06:56 March 23, 2023

Fixing the legislation for remote treatment

Mask-wearing on public transportation is no longer mandatory in Korea. It is unnecessary now, except in medical facilities. The lifting at the same time demands a fast review and legislation on remote medical treatment. Under the Infectious Disease Prevention Act, consulting with a doctor and getting prescriptions over the phone became possible after February 2020 when the contagious risk hit above serious levels. If the World Health Organization (WHO) declares an end to the public health crisis from the pandemic in late April or early May, Korea will have to lower the Covid-19 risk level. Then, there will be no legal grounds for telemedicine.

Koreans experienced the merits of remote doctoring during the three years under Covid-19. One out of four Koreans, or 13.79 million people, sought doctors through phone or videoconferencing. Cases for Covid-19 treatment while isolated at home took up the lion's share of 29.25 million. Still, 7.36 million cases were related to other illnesses. No mishaps have been reported from remote doctoring. Of 72,000 registered medical facilities, 35.6 percent took part in telemedicine trials. The majority, or 93.6 percent, were clinics. The patients did not swarm toward big hospitals as reasoned by the doctors' association in opposition of telehealthcare. According to a survey by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute in September last year, 62.3 percent who experienced remote healthcare were satisfied with the services. The contentment ratio was higher at 65.1 percent in rural areas with less access to hospitals.

The Health and Welfare Ministry is readying a revision to the law to enable non-in-person treatment to residents of isolated and remote areas and patients of chronic and infectious diseases. The government and National Assembly must hurry to keep alive the legal grounds for telemedicine.

All three bills related to the revision to the Medical Act to enable telemedicine restrict remote treatment to outpatients who have received more than one in-person consultation and patients of chronic diseases. The health ministry and doctors' association are in favor of the idea. According to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment, 81.5 percent of non-contact treatment except for Covid-19 cases came from returning patients.

But platform-based medical care providers insist that excluding first-time patients would be meaningless. They question the exclusion as there has not been any problems with first-time patients during the trial period. In fact, most first-time callers sought remote care for simple illnesses like colds. If they are excluded from remote treatment, the industry believes remote healthcare use will be restricted.

The government, legislature and industry must come to a reasonable solution to balance healthcare convenience through platform servicing while ensuring the safety of the care.

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