The Korean government recently announced a package of measures to foster the bio-healthcare industry, but it failed to address the healthcare industry’s long-standing demand that regulations on telemedicine be eased.
Currently, telemedicine products and services cannot be commercialized in Korea due to regulations. They can only enter the market after their telemedicine functions are taken out. As a result, domestic companies that have developed telemedicine technologies are forced to look for overseas markets as their business opportunities are blocked in the domestic market.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare seems to have sided with the medical community, which is opposed to telemedicine. The Korean Medical Association has been against telemedicine due to concerns about patient diversion to large hospitals, the bankruptcy of hospitals and clinics, and quality deterioration of medical practices. There has been no serious discussion on the introduction of telemedicine for more than 10 years.
Lim In-taek, director of health industry policy at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said, "We did not include telemedicine in the package because we decided that it is not necessary to cause controversy."
The basic policy of the Health Ministry is to utilize telemedicine as a means to expand public health care. In August last year, the Health ministry formulated the revision of the Medical Law, saying, "We are reviewing a plan to introduce telemedicine for patients who are unable or have a hard time to receive a face-to-face treatment."
The government initially intended to apply telemedicine to four cases -- military bases, overseas fishing boats, correctional facilities, and isolated areas with no medical personnel. However, this plan was not included in the latest package. Director Lim explained, "We are currently evaluating telemedicine pilot projects, and we will try to review the areas that have room for improvement and expansion."
However, the industry was disappointed. An official from the healthcare industry said, "An important aspect of the bio-health industry is smart healthcare, which is a field that telemedicine can be widely used. It is disappointing that Korea prevents introduction of telemedicine even to areas where access to medical services is limited, whereas the United States and other medically developed countries support companies to develop various business models in the advanced telemedicine market."