As of the first of next month, the “pilot project” will continue. Until now, non-face-to-face medical treatment was allowed for a limited time because the COVID-19 crisis was in the ‘severe’ stage, but with the downgrade to ‘alert’, non-face-to-face medical treatment will be in a legal vacuum until the medical law is revised. In this situation, Kookmin and the Ministry of Health and Welfare explained that they will continue to use non-face-to-face medical treatment in the form of a pilot project.
However, in this case, it will be difficult to freely receive non-face-to-face medical treatment from the first consultation. As it was allowed in special situations where there was a risk of large-scale spread of infectious diseases, it is good to improve access to medical care when the risk is reduced, but it is also necessary to minimize side effects. The Ministry of Health and Welfare has announced that it will soon finalize and announce specific targets for using non-face-to-face medical care under this direction.
The problem is that even if the guidelines are in place, there is no way to implement them on the ground. With only ten days left until the pilot project, there is a lot of confusion on the ground about which patients to use, which doctors to see, and which platforms to intermediate between them, and the Welfare Ministry has no answers.
■ ‘Centered on return visits’… Who will tell me ‘whether to return’?
The core of the principles that the government has laid out for the pilot project is that non-face-to-face medical treatment will be centered on “returning patients” and “clinic-level medical institutions.” The cases in which initial consultations are possible are limited to those who live in areas with a significant shortage of medical institutions or have difficulty moving around, patients with confirmed infectious diseases, and pediatric patients for whom medical gaps during holidays and nighttime hours are a problem. This will make it difficult for people to visit a doctor after work, for example, to use non-face-to-face care.
In this case, it’s the non-face-to-face platforms that are the problem. Doctors can look at a patient’s history at their clinic to see if they are a returning patient and if they are eligible for a contactless visit. However, platforms currently have no way of determining whether a patient using a virtual visit is a first-time or returning patient, as they don’t have access to the patient’s medical records due to healthcare laws.
As a result, there is no clear definition of whether a patient needs to take out a supporting document containing their medical records for future non-telemedicine visits, or whether they can apply for a second opinion with only these documents. The platform industry, which has been raising this point for some time, issued a statement on the 20th of this month, the day after the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced the pilot project, saying, “We have been continuously expressing our opinions on how to effectively utilize non-telemedicine, but they have not been reflected,” and “We express our regret that it is difficult to apply it to reality.” There are only ten days left.
With only 10 days left, there is still no clear plan, and it is difficult to implement the plan technically on the platforms needed to use non-face-to-face medical treatment. The Ministry of Health and Welfare was unable to provide a clear explanation for this, saying only, “It seems that it will have to be built during the (three-month) trial period,” when asked by reporters on the same day. Doctors’ organizations also agree, saying, “Doctors are also ‘users’ of the platform, so it is a problem that the platform should come up with a solution.”
■ ‘No drug delivery’… Is there a reason?
The pilot project is not just limited to medical treatment. Until now, it was possible to have medication delivered to your home after receiving a non-face-to-face medical treatment, but this is also prohibited in principle. In some cases, exceptions can be made to allow you to pick up your medication at home, but this is limited to reasons such as initial consultation, and even then, it must be discussed with a ‘pharmacist’.
Even if a doctor’s judgment is used to prescribe medication during a second visit, the patient still has to go to pick up the medication in person. Leaving aside the medical treatment requirement itself, it seems impossible to say that the method of picking up the medication is now ‘non-face-to-face’.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare explains that “the principle is to increase patient choice”. But it’s not clear why “patient choice” doesn’t include “drug delivery.” When asked what happens if there isn’t a pharmacy near the patient’s location that carries their prescription, the answer is that “if there isn’t one, they can find one closer to them”.
This creates a problem for patients who have had a virtual appointment and have to send in their prescription or call ahead to find out if a pharmacy near their home has their medication. “That’s a concern. It can happen,” and that “more participating pharmacies or healthcare organizations would reduce this problem.”
It’s hard to believe that this is the answer from the ministry. The pilot project for non-face-to-face medical treatment has been planned for a long time, but it is difficult to understand why there are no measures yet, and why it was announced as a pilot project if there are no measures. It is said that there is a three-month transition period from June, but with the current attitude of the Welfare Ministry, can we believe that a meaningful solution will come out in three months?
The ban on drug delivery is something that pharmacists’ organizations such as the Korean Pharmaceutical Association have been arguing against for non-face-to-face medical treatment. The pharmaceutical association’s position is that if they create and use a ‘public platform’, they can deliver drugs. The pharmaceutical association stated that it is “basically against solving problems that should be solved by legislation through a pilot project,” but that “the existing concerns have been largely resolved as drug delivery is only allowed on a limited basis.”
■ Confusion is left to the medical field…Can the platform business continue?메이저놀이터
The Ministry of Health and Welfare says the pilot project is not complete. It emphasizes that it will continue to collect opinions from experts and the industry during the remaining time until the first of next month, and emphasizes that there are enough changes that can be made during the three-month transition period.
But time is running out now, and at the rate things are going, it’s clear that the healthcare field will be disrupted starting next month, and it will be the doctors and patients on the ground who will bear the brunt of it, not the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
As it stands, the telemedicine platform industry says it’s not only difficult to implement, but it also doesn’t guarantee the future of the industry. Long-term