“KMA will put safety before convenience in telemedicine policy”

The nation’s largest physician organization is taking steps to make telemedicine its official policy.

The Korean Medical Association (KMA) held a workshop in Busan over the weekend to discuss home treatment and telehealth and had a discussion on contactless patient care.

Kim Hong-sik, chairman of the KMA special policy committee of the Korean Medical Association, spoke about the committee’s operation and health issues during a meeting with reporters in Busan on Sunday.

Kim Hong-sik, chairman of the KMA’s policy special committee, told reporters that the KMA seeks to “define telemedicine, face-to-face care and contactless care.” Kim operates the Baesan Medical Clinic in Busan.

The KMA’s special policy committee will focus on the complementary relationships between in-person and remote care when developing the programs, he said.

Question: Why did you choose “Covid-19 home treatment and telemedicine” as the topic of the workshop?

Answer: We introduced home care abruptly because of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the owner of an internal medicine clinic, I have participated in the home treatment system and have seen many problems. One of the biggest problems was that patients, who are not professionals, were trying to decide on a treatment option. A Covid-19 patient wanted to get Paxlovid, a Covid-19 pill. After consultation, I found that the patient was not eligible for a Paxlovid prescription. When the patient heard the news over the phone, he said he would contact another medical facility to get the pill. It was a small example, but if the choice of treatment is decided by patient demand, it will interfere with patient safety and proper treatment. If telemedicine is allowed for all diseases, its adverse effects will become more serious.

Despite these concerns, the country has already established legal foundations for telemedicine. For better patient comfort, the government is pushing to set up telehealth despite the opposition of doctors.

In this situation, the KMA Policy Ad Hoc Committee will point out problems that may arise when introducing telemedicine and ask for improvements. In healthcare, patient safety and accuracy are far more important than patient comfort. To solve this problem, we chose telemedicine as the theme of the workshop.

Q: The Yoon Suk-yeol government is preparing for a telehealth policy. Its national tasks include the institutionalization of contactless patient care.

A: Whether to introduce telemedicine is decided by economic factors, not medical factors. Developers of telehealth solutions and self-measuring medical devices are calling on the government to allow telemedicine. And Koreans who have tasted the convenience of home care are also asking for it.

When introducing telemedicine, we cannot make a judgment separating hospitals from clinics. The medical practice of a doctor is the same regardless of his place of practice. If remote patient-doctor healthcare is allowed, a treatment decision based on the patient’s explanation will threaten patient safety and may lead to an inaccurate diagnosis. The same is true of the outpatient department of hospitals. Self-measuring medical devices have low reliability. If we are to introduce telemedicine, it will only be possible in extremely limited diseases.

Q: To what extent will the KMA Policy Select Committee discuss telemedicine?

A: Remote care is a complementary tool to in-person care. We must define the “complement” and define the cases where telemedicine can be practiced. Additionally, we try to make a detailed agenda of what it means to complete face-to-face care. A related law is being proposed to the National Assembly, but the KMA’s special policy committee will try to define telemedicine, face-to-face care and contactless care, rather than discussing individual bills. The committee prepares a KMA policy and submits it to the council of representatives. We work on definitions and terms in a broad framework.

Q: Since the inauguration, the Special Policy Committee of the KMA has made nearly 100 policy proposals. It has also shown a willingness to develop legitimate health content.

A: Developing healthcare content is one of the most important tasks of the KMA Policy Committee. But to implement the task requires huge capital and technology. Since the discussions to create the right medical content cannot be done without the KMA, the KMA Policy Ad Hoc Committee should take the lead. Ridiculous health care information on the internet has become a source of revenue. Because of this, Koreans lose not only money but also health. By establishing the right healthcare content, we will protect people from misinformation about healthcare.

Q: The KMA started setting its own policies five years ago. But some point out that KMA policies are not as influential as expected.

A: It may be normal. I heard that the American Medical Association, which has a 140-year history, took more than 30 years to lay the foundation for the AMA policies. Defining evidence-based health policies is not an easy task. Health policies change every year and consumer needs are diversifying day by day. It is impossible to define these changes in just a few years. It will take more time for the KMA to establish its own policies. Our efforts may not meet expectations because there are differences in expectations caused by differences in understanding of health policy making.

Of course, there are many things that the KMA policy special committee needs to rectify internally. But our global activities have not been slow. I think that the competence of doctors for the development of health policies is insufficient in relation to the demand. It is easy for doctors to shout slogans against government policies. But establishing a theoretical basis for politics and logically persuading it is like creating something out of nothing.

Health policies differ from country to country, so the KMA committee must construct its own health and medical policy data that fits the Korean context.

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