Non-emergency patients will face much higher medical costs if they use emergency rooms starting this month, as part of the government’s measures to limit the unnecessary use of emergency rooms, officials said Thursday.
The Welfare Ministry said patients visiting the top 140 emergency rooms in the country will be classified into five categories depending on the urgency and severity of their condition, and charged different fees accordingly.
Non-emergency patients who show mild symptoms such as flu will be required to shoulder all the emergency room fees on their own, while that of emergency patients will be partially covered by the national health insurance program. Until last year, all patients benefitted from partial coverage.
The new move came as part of measures to better control infectious diseases and protect public health, after emergency room crowding was suspected as one of the culprits behind the Middle East respiratory syndrome crisis last year.
A total of 88 out of 186 MERS victims were found to have been infected in emergency rooms, the ministry said.
The government’s data also showed that about 80 percent of emergency room users were not in critical condition. The most common affliction of emergency room patients visiting the country’s top five hospitals was cancer, followed by open wounds, flu and acute gastroenteritis.
Once patients arrive at the emergency room, medical staff will determine the urgency and severity of symptoms.
If judged urgent, the patients will be given emergency treatment. If symptoms seem infectious, they will be immediately quarantined. If symptoms are mild, however, the patients will be led to different medical institutions upon their consent.
Emergency room use fees will vary by hospitals, ranging from 18,000 won ($15) to 54,000 won, with larger ones costing more, the authorities said.
Non-emergency patients must pay the fees even if their only treatment is a drug prescription.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org