South Korea’s hospitals are not fully ready for the revised privacy law that bans public agencies and private companies from collecting or processing resident registration numbers.
The bill, which will take effect on Aug. 7, is feared to spark a slew of problems at medical institutions, including mix-ups such as referring to the wrong patient profile, or confusing patients’ results, hospitals said.
Under the revised bill, hospitals are not allowed to ask for a patient’s registration number when they make appointments on the phone or online.
Patients will only have to provide their name, sex, and date and year of birth. But not using the registration number ― which is unique to each person ― may generate serious errors as many patients share the same names and birthdays, according to the hospitals.
Jeong Jae-ho from Ewha Womans University Hospital said one of the problems the hospital faces has to do with patients who are covered by the Medical Aid Program, which provides public health care assistance for the poor.
In Korea, about 97 percent of the citizens are covered by the National Health Insurance Service, while the remaining 3 percent are covered by the special aid program.
Those who are covered by the Medical Aid Program must have a referral from a first-tier medical institution, a small-sized clinic with a limited number of medical departments, in order to be treated at third-tier medical facilities such as general hospitals.
“The only way for us to find out whether you are covered by NHIS or the Medical Aid Program is through your registration number,” Jeong told The Korea Herald.
“We are a third-tier facility, and if we are not allowed to collect registration numbers, we can’t inform those who are covered by the medical aid program about the rules and conditions before they make their visit to the hospital. We are afraid many of those patients will visit the hospital without referrals and end up learning that they can’t be treated that day.”
The revised bill came after the nation was hit by a serious leak of client information at Lotte Card, KB Kookmin Card Co. and NongHyup Card last year. Personal data of up to 20 million clients of the card companies was stolen by an employee of the Korea Credit Bureau.
“We cannot make hospitals an exception (to the revised bill),” said an official from the Health Ministry. “The registration number can be replaced with other information, such as phone numbers.”
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)