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‘Herb doctors’ use of medical device will hurt public health’

Song Soo-youn  Published 2017.09.15  16:51  Updated 2017.09.15 17:54

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Choo Moo-jin, president of the Korean Medical Association, a group of Korean medical doctors, went on a hunger strike since Wednesday evening. It is his second fasting protest following the first in January 2015, for the same reason – to block Oriental medicine practitioners’ move from using modern medical devices.

Related: Conflict between healthcare workers intensifies over medical device use

The law bans Oriental medicine practitioners from using modern medical machines, such as X-ray, to treat patients. Their use is allowed only for research. Medical doctors are strongly opposed to the move of Oriental medicine practitioners, claiming that allowing them to use Western medical equipment can lead to their misdiagnosis because Oriental medicine bases its theories in traditional medicine.

To thwart Oriental medicine practitioners’ move, Choo has been busy outside Korea as well.

Just before he entered the fasting protest on Wednesday, he attended the 32nd General Assembly of the Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO) in Tokyo to raise awareness about the issue. He urged the international community to pay attention to the National Assembly of Korea. “(Korean) lawmakers proposed a vicious bill that could put our public health in danger,” he said at the meeting in Tokyo.

It is against this backdrop Korea Biomedical Review had an interview with Choo at the KMA headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul, on Friday. He emphasized the situation in Korea was “deplorable,” saying he chose the hunger strike as a last resort to express his desperate position.

Choo Moo-jin, president of the Korean Medical Association, talks about why he is trying to prevent Oriental medicine practitioners from using modern medical devices, during a recent interview with Korea Biomedical Review.

Question: Why do you try to block Oriental medicine practitioners from using medical devices, even by staging a hunger strike?

Answer: Because the situation is deplorable. Allowing Oriental medicine practitioners, whose base theories are completely different from those for medical doctors, to use modern medical device could seriously threaten the public health and patients’ safety. For the past several years, I have repeatedly raised the issue on this. But lawmakers are pushing a bill again. I doubt that the lawmakers had pondered upon any chance that such bill could hurt the public health and patients’ safety.

Q: The bill has just been tabled. There is still chance that it cannot pass the National Assembly during deliberations, isn’t there?

A: Two lawmakers, each from the ruling and opposition party, sponsored a similar bill to allow Oriental medicine practitioners to use medical devices such as X-ray. I’m afraid lawmakers might have formed a bipartisan consensus on allowing them to use medical devices. This is a grave situation for medical doctors.

Q: Is that also why you rushed to attend the CMAAO’s meeting and made a presentation?

A: Yes. We need the international community’s attention on the abnormal situation in Korea. During the session for reporting each country’s urgent issue, I explained the problem facing our country, if we allow Oriental medicine practitioners to use radiation machine. After my presentation, the chairman agreed that it was indeed a serious matter. He said not only Korea but other Asian countries where medical system has not been fully established are experiencing similar issues over traditional medicine.

Q: Some people say why Oriental medicine practitioners should not use X-ray to examine patients accurately. They say X-rays are used even at airports for inspection.

Choo attends the CMAAO’s general assembly meeting in Tokyo on Thursday to appeal to the international community about the move by Oriental medicine practitioners in Korea.

A: X-rays for the medical purpose are not designed to take pictures directly. The use of the machine requires a physician’s professional judgment, from diagnosis to treatment. Oriental medicine practitioners say they will use X-ray only to check bone fracture, but such thinking is very naïve and dangerous. Is there any Oriental medicine treatment for a bone fracture? No. If there is no treatment, it is absurd to use X-ray like the ones at airports.

The past court rulings on Oriental medicine practitioners who used modern medical devices showed that their use was illegal because those devices were developed based on Western medical principles. There are medical devices developed by Oriental medicine principles, which also received much of the government’s support.

Q: The Association of Korean Medicine says more than 75 percent of Oriental medicine practitioners’ college learning overlaps with that of medical schools, claiming they have the same right to use modern medical devices. What’s your opinion on this?

A: Even 1 percent of difference makes them different anyway. Unless they are 100 percent same, such use can be a threat to a patient. World Medical Association Secretary General Otmar Kloiber, who visited Korea in February last year, also said Oriental medicine practitioners would need 100 percent same education as those offered at medical schools if they want to benefit from modern medicine. This can’t happen in a country like Korea where the medical licensing system is firmly established.

Q: The Oriental medicine practitioners are certified only in Korea. Wouldn’t that be the reason for outsiders to make it difficult to understand the situation?

A: That’s why we’re trying our best to help them understand the difference between medical doctors and Oriental medicine practitioners. We have sent out our official statement to the WMA to explain the difference of their English names. The confusion about their names worsened especially after Oriental medicine practitioners’ group changed their name to “the Association of Korean Medicine” from “the Association of Korean Oriental Medicine.” Outside Korea, people often misunderstand a Korean medicine practitioner as a medical doctor. The AKM even claimed that the license of the Oriental medicine practitioner should include the label, “MD.” If this becomes a reality, it will be even harder for foreigners to distinguish between medical doctors and Oriental medicine practitioners. I hope more people could be aware that they are different from medical doctors.

Q: Some say we should allow their use of medical devices as a way to globalize Oriental medicine. Do you agree?

A: People tend to think that it is always good to make Korean thing an international sensation. But in the medical field, such mindset is irrational. If Oriental medicine is to be recognized as a legitimate medical field, its safety and efficacy should be verified first. This is the basics. If they care about their families’ health, they should meticulously check whether their medical practice -- from diagnosis to treatment -- is based on facts. Lawmakers and government officials should also consider this aspect when pushing bills and policies.

soo331@docdocdoc.co.kr

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