South Korea’s ambivalence towards telemedicine

The surprising reasons why. 5.8 million South Koreans aren’t exactly tech-phobic, enjoying a nationally swift internet backbone and high personal smartphone penetration. The home of the two leading smartphone makers is pioneering mobile-first retailing and a national IoT network. South Korea (SK) also has the need–an aging population living in rural areas. Yet South Korea bans doctor-patient virtual visits in their Medical Act, and expects major demonstrations by doctors and activists when it comes up for a vote later this year in their National Assembly. Telemedicine and also telehealth/RPM may happen eventually, backed by powerhouses like SK Telecom, Samsung and LG, but will have to take into consideration some unique circumstances:

  • Cyberattacks from North Korea, which have already hit a Seoul university hospital’s software security contractor and demonstrated their system’s HIT vulnerabilities
  • The government’s glitch-ridden telemedicine pilot program with serious problems in data management, encryption and weak passwords
  • The fear that only the rich will be able to afford it–and in SK’s split system, the fear that funding may be withdrawn from the extensive network of community clinics instead of benefiting them

Medical professionals, including the 100,000 doctors in the KMA who successfully blocked telemedicine in 2014 and haven’t participated in the pilot program, are calling for “a slower, more collaborative plan of attack that establishes safety protocols and smart regulatory oversight.”  Quartz

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