The Ministry of Health and Welfare recently announced a short-term measure to improve the medical delivery system. The government said it would penalize tertiary general hospitals if they attract more patients with moderate symptoms rather than serious illnesses. The measure aimed to solve the chronic problem of overcrowding at large hospitals.
|Song Seung-jae, President of Korea Digital Health Industry Association|
It is often said that Korea has excellent medical access. On the surface, it sounds right. Get out of your house, and you can easily find clinics and hospitals. However, in the process of completing the national health insurance system, the distorted medical delivery system has exacerbated the overcrowding of large hospitals.
If we ask whether Korea’s high access to healthcare can cover a broad spectrum of diseases with insurance benefit, the answer is even more disappointing. A medical institution’s medical services are provided under the health insurance reimbursement system. While patients wish to receive more detailed care outside the hospital after they are discharged, it is almost impossible to do so.
Although the demand for digital devices to assist medical service is rising, physicians cannot use them because they are not reimbursable, critics say. Among medical aids, digital treatments that have as much clinical significance as drugs are drawing the world’s attention, beyond the popularity of new biopharmaceuticals.
Digital healthcare is just being tested in Korea, but other countries have been moving swiftly to advance it. China, Japan, the U.S., and European countries have institutionalized digital healthcare, sought to utilize medical resource as efficiently as possible, and tried to provide continuous medical service outside hospitals.
The digital healthcare industry has achieved a rapid 20 percent annual growth. Digital treatments are drawing attention as the third-generation treatment, after the first generation of synthetic drugs and the second generation of biopharmaceutical drugs. Leading countries are fiercely competing to advance digital healthcare services to digital therapies. Multinational pharmaceutical firms are operating tech scouts and busy materializing open innovation to make digital treatment pipelines.
Korea was the world’s first to commercialize the most advanced communications technology 5G. However, it may not be Korea that uses 5G technology in healthcare and secures a digital healthcare market first. Korea has spent more than two decades to prepare for digital healthcare. The nation was the fastest in the world to start it.
However, it is not too much to say that digital healthcare has been trapped in a test tube due to existing regulations. We have to question whether such regulations have limited the rights of citizens to choose healthcare services. We have to ponder upon whether other countries would agree that Korea is the digital powerhouse, as we have called ourselves.
Countries with limited medical resources, like Korea, are paying attention to IT, a tool to distribute limited resources efficiently. Digital healthcare using IT is being promoted to help distribute medical resources efficiently. That explains why the government has designated Gangwon Province as a regulation-free zone to realize digital healthcare. The government also has named Busan and Sejong as smart cities using IT to test managing local resources efficiently for people’s health and safety.
The medical community at home and abroad has built a consensus on new behavioral interventions such as digital therapies in the digital healthcare industry. Physicians know better than anyone that digital healthcare will be an excellent medical aid to lead the efficient use of medical resources. Doctors, along with the government, should inform the public and empower the digital healthcare service. If we can use digital healthcare to distribute medical resources efficiently, it will also significantly help improve the distorted medical delivery system.