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‘Time for Korea to consider telehealth’

Business lobby, private experts call for deregulations in health care to align with global trends

The Federation of Korean Industries Vice Chairman Kwon Tae-shin speaks during a seminar held in Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The Federation of Korean Industries Vice Chairman Kwon Tae-shin speaks during a seminar held in Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The Federation of Korean Industries said Tuesday that South Korea needs to consider reviewing related regulations to open up the gates for local practice of telemedicine-medical diagnosis.

FKI Vice Chairman Kwon Tae-shin said now is the time to take deregulatory actions, given the public’s positive perception of telemedicine, formed after experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic.

He made the remarks during a seminar held to share information and opinions on telemedicine trends in Seoul, Tuesday.

According to an FKI survey with over 1,000 respondents here, around 62.1 percent of those polled were favorable to introducing telemedicine, while 18.1 percent of the people were against it.

Kwon criticized the absence of discussions on telemedicine in the political circles over the past few years. Kwon said that the 20th National Assembly’s bill to revise the Korean Medical Service Act had expired and came to nothing and that the 21st National Assembly has not even submitted a bill yet.

“It is a pity that local companies, which have capabilities of developing telemedicine platforms that could secure partnerships with the foreign governments, is unable to find business opportunities here,” Kwon said.

Kim A-reum, the director of International Healthcare Center of Inha University Hospital, also said the belated discussion on telehealth services here has set the country back many years in the market.

According to Kim, South Korea has been conservative in taking telehealth initiatives, while China, Singapore and Australia have started to ramp up their efforts in the market even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Kim said the telemedicine market in the US is currently the biggest, followed by Europe, the Asia Pacific, Latin America, Middle East and Africa.
The US currently applies the same insurance fees to both outpatient and telehealth services, Kim said. After the coronavirus pandemic struck, the US began allowing medical services conducted via emails and text messages to be covered by insurance, Kim added.

The telehealth services in the US now accounts for around 14 percent of all outpatient services, from 0.1 percent in April last year.

The global telemedicine market is expected to grow to $185.7 billion from $34.3 billion in 2018, according to Kim.

Lee Joo-wan, the vice president of Korea Venture Business Association, said the Korean Medical Service Act, which does not allow telemedicine practice here, is limiting investment and growth of the local telehealth sector.

“Since the country has seen safety and necessity of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic after the government provided conditional approvals on several telehealth services, we can no longer delay but permit introduction of telehealth services,” Lee added.

Ban Ho-young, CEO of smart rehabilitation solutions provider Neofect, also urged the South Korean government to review the Medical Act and the laws concerning medical data to help local companies advance into the global telehealth market.

Ban added that telehealth services would also allow the government to save insurance prices in the future, particularly in an aging society that increases insurance costs.

By Shim Woo-hyun (