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Coronavirus-inspired changes to arrive in S. Korean health care

Remote medical care, respiratory-only clinics coming to health service

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip speaks during a press briefing on Monday. (Health Ministry)
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip speaks during a press briefing on Monday. (Health Ministry)

South Korea is introducing new health care services to brace for the lasting impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak, intent to prevent a system collapse should a second wave of infections occur.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a press briefing Monday that remote medical care and respiratory-only health facilities would be set up to cope with possible rise in demand in the fall and winter, when respiratory illnesses are common.

“By isolating patients with respiratory symptoms or fever from the rest of the patients, transmission risks associated with hospital visits are expected to fall,” said the Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip.

Over-the-phone prescriptions, first introduced Feb. 24, will also be put to wider use, boosted by state benefits.

Starting early May, the medical service fees for phone-only prescriptions will be priced 30 percent higher than in-person visits to doctor’s offices, to be paid for by the government through the National Health Insurance Service.

The Health Ministry’s latest data show over 3,000 medical institutions nationwide have provided 103,998 consultations and prescriptions on the phone between Feb. 24 and April 12.

Kim said the ministry adopted the measures after speaking with health professionals.

Health officials held a meeting with the Korean Medical Association and Korean Hospital Association earlier the same day, where they reached agreement over key parts of a COVID-19 contingency plan in the works.

Decisions announced Monday include government aid to health care workers and institutions handling COVID-19.

Hospitals experiencing financial struggles from the outbreak will be compensated, Kim said, and ways to supplement hazard pay for health care providers working with COVID-19 patients will be figured out in due time.

“The government will continue to listen to medical workers to devise and update our response to mitigate the impact of the outbreak on the health care system,” the vice minister said.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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