South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare has released its report on the conduct of temporary telemedicine during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the report, over 25,000 medical institutions provided remote treatment to 13.79 million people from February 2020 to January 2023. Of the 36.61 million treatments administered via telehealth, most treatments (29.25 million) were home treatments for COVID-19 cases while about 1.36 million treatment cases were first-time visits and 5.14 million cases received prescriptions following consultations.
The report pointed out that most telemedicine services were conducted by neighbourhood clinics (accounting for 93.6% of all participating healthcare providers and 86.2% of all recorded treatments). Large hospitals previously aired their concerns about shouldering most of the telemedicine demand but this had not been the case at all, the MOHW noted.
Moreover, the report found that there was a high telemedicine uptake among the elderly and those with chronic diseases. Most telehealth treatments, or about 2.88 million treatments, had been provided to senior folks aged 60 and above. Telemedicine had been administered mostly for patients with hypertension, acute bronchitis, and diabetes.
Additionally, there had been increased adherence to prescription medicines among patients with chronic diseases following the temporary implementation of telemedicine in 2020. “Through this study, it was confirmed that non-face-to-face treatment can contribute to some extent in improving health, such as improving the continuity of prescriptions for the elderly,” the MOHW said.
WHY IT MATTERS
To recall, the South Korean government temporarily permitted the conduct of telemedicine in February 2020 as a means to restrict mobility and stem the spread of COVID-19 infections.
Following positive outcomes, the MOHW now calls to institutionalise telemedicine by revising related provisions in the country’s Medical Service Act.
Meanwhile, the government recently recognised the Korean Medical Association’s proposal to make telemedicine a permanent supplement to face-to-face healthcare services.
THE LARGER TREND
The MOHW also shared from the 2020 survey by the National Health Insurance Service that most patients who have received prescriptions over the phone said they are willing to use the service again in the future. Being safe from contracting infectious diseases and the reduced waiting time were cited as reasons to continue using telemedicine. A similar satisfaction survey done by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute in October also noted the same willingness to continue seeking prescriptions over the phone.
ON THE RECORD
“We were able to confirm the effectiveness and safety of non-face-to-face treatment and we were able to allay concerns about high concentrated demand for telemedicine among large hospitals,” Second Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Park Min-soo said.
“In the conduct of telemedicine, patients’ right to choose and access to medical care, as well as the professionalism of medical personnel, are respected. We have plans to allow the use of supplementary devices so that both patients and medical personnel can use telemedicine safely,” he added.