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  • 작성자 사진Bon Oh, CEO & Founder

COVID-19 shedding light on the Korean medical system



More than a decade ago, I worked at Afghanistan Korean Army Hospital as a translator and administrator during my military service. There were only three surgeons dispatched from Korea, but they have treated more than 20,000 outpatients in less than six months. The Commander of the Combined Forces made a special visit to the hospital expressing gratitude to the Korean surgeons for their outstanding performance. However, doctors were rather calm because they are used to covering the massive volume of patients timebound.



Some may call it “Efficiency or Productivity”


According to OECD 2018 statistics, a Korean national receives 17 outpatient treatments per year on average. That frequency is 2.3 times higher than the OECD average.

Healthcare Providers in Korea are extremely busy. Accelerating the growth of COVID-19 related statistics from Korea caused a surprise first, then “awe” globally amazed by the speed of the diagnosis and treatment capabilities proven over the short period of the time since the outbreak. However, this is not necessarily a new phenomenon owing to the novel Corona virus. Medical service providers have always been busy.


It is not unusual for any competent doctors to cover 5 to 6 outpatients within 15 minutes, and such a time-prohibitive practice is more pronounced among large hospitals. From the efficiency perspective, these timebound practice has allowed more convenient access to doctors at a lower cost. Still, most of the patients have felt they are not adequately attended. Yes, 3 minutes are not sufficient, even to say hi and explain complaints to doctors.

Cons from such a timebound treatment outweigh the pros of having lower-cost access to the medical system. Patients tend to have difficulties in understanding the implication of diagnosis and requirements for the treatment. And they easily lack accessible and reliable support for proper follow-ups regardless of the efforts from the healthcare providers. Consequently, inefficiencies and delays in the treatment process are being caused. There should be a meticulous and continuous check on patients’ adherence to medical and related requirements for a complete cure.



Lack of incentive, reimbursement policy


Korea’s reimbursement rate is just 37% of the average of OECD countries.

It has been a chicken and egg problem. The source of medical funding is a mandatory national health insurance program. Thus, an increase in the reimbursement rate for patient-friendly medical attention will immediately spike the health insurance premiums for all Korean nationals, and that will cause an outcry despite long-term benefits for the public health system.


Demand and shortage for medical attention are peaking coupled with the COVID-19 outbreak. The efficiency and productivity of the Korean medical capabilities have been proven amid the crisis. However, still, there is a massive gap in the Korean medical system for both healthcare providers and patients to get satisfied sustaining the right health conditions.



Self-Check Your Adherence STATUS


In the long run, there should be systematic and structural changes in the public health program and the medical system. But we are now faced with a (hopefully) short-term challenge when such a pandemic crisis consumes too many medical resources leaving little to no room for medical attention to other chronic (but not less critical) illnesses.

Small steps we can take to tackle that challenge and safeguard our health conditions are to have self-monitoring rules. Especially if you have had medical conditions, including chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and rheumatism, please go through the seven questions below. If your answer is “no” even any of one item, you need to heighten your medical attention at clinics and even at home.


Self-check on your medical adherence is a significant start, and compliance is key to your treatment. And of course, it is the way to contribute to saving the medical resources during this chaotic time.


[Medication Adherence Self-check]


  • Do you know precisely when to take your medications during the day to treat my condition?

  • Do you know what your prescribed dose precisely is?

  • Are you having trouble taking your prescribed medication at a known dosage at the right time?

  • Do you know when you can stop taking medication?

  • Do you know what foods you should refrain from?

  • Do you know the recommended exercise method?

  • Do you know any other rules of life to be followed?



Edited by Celeste


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