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Ministry, doctors strike telemedicine deal

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Published : 2014-02-18 20:04
Updated : 2014-02-19 09:34

Representatives from the government and a group of doctors agreed to toss the controversial telemedicine bill to the National Assembly, officials said Tuesday.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korean Medical Association said in a joint briefing that they have agreed to push the bill expected to give designated hospitals the right to use IT technology when examining patients in remote areas.

“Both parties acknowledged the necessity of telemedicine monitoring and consulting, though not as a replacement of face-to-face treatment,” said the ministry’s healthcare policy director Kwon Deok-cheol. “The bill will be submitted to parliament in March.”

Although they agreed to pass the ball to the parliament, the two failed to narrow their differences over a pilot project to test the efficacy of the telemedicine system.

While the government aimed to introduce the bill first and initiate a pilot project later, the KMA urged that the project be launched first to ensure medical safety.

The two added that they would continue the discussion to mend their differences.

Based on the results of the negotiation, the KMA also said it will hold a vote to decide whether to stage the strike scheduled for March 3.

Last month, the KMA threatened to launch a nationwide strike protesting the government’s plan to allow telemedicine and for-profit subsidiaries in hospitals. Doctors expressed concern, saying that the moves would pave the way for the privatization of medical sectors while lowering the quality of medical services.

In an effort to reach an agreement, the two have been holding rounds of negotiations over the contentious medical issues.

The temporary consultative body is comprised of four officials from each party.

While the consultative body itself reached the agreement, strong opposition remains among the KMA members, leaving the vote result uncertain.

After the joint briefing, the KMA president Roh Hwan-kyu stressed in his press conference that the two parties have not reached an agreement.

“The differences between the two have not been narrowed down at all. The KMA still strongly opposes telemedicine,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Roh, who also served as the chief of the emergency planning committee, offered to resign from his post in the committee.

“(The results made) are substantially far from what most of the KMA members pursue,” he said on his blog. “Right now is the time to decide the fate of the medical field. If the emergency planning chief cannot accept the results of the committee, it is right to step down.”

Doctors will stage a strike if over half of the KMA members vote for the strike. Over 60,000 doctors are members of the KMA.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)

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