The Korea Herald


Morning-after pill most prescribed drug in telemedicine

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : Sept. 14, 2023 - 15:12

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More than half of the drugs prescribed through non-face-to-face treatment were those not covered by national insurance, which has raised concerns among pharmacists about possible blind spots in telemedicine operations, according to the Korea Pharmaceutical Association.

When 1,142 pharmacists were asked what drugs were dispensed during a telemedicine pilot program from June to August this year, of the total prescriptions, 34.6 percent were emergency contraceptives, followed by acne treatment drugs at 24.7 percent and hair loss treatment drugs at 22.2 percent.

Korea's telemedicine services are designed to provide quality health care to people who live in hard-to-reach areas, such as elderly residents in rural or isolated areas, by connecting patients to doctors using the internet. However, the results were different from what was expected as shown with the list of prescribed pills through telemedicine, the KPA said.

“Those three most prescribed medicines are drugs not covered by the national health insurance. Under the current law, when patients are prescribed such drugs, records of the prescription and receipt of the drugs don't remain in the country's record system, so that can lead to other issues,” an official from the KPA explained, referring to Korea's Drug Utilization Review System.

In Korea, all medications are screened by the state, and when the state determines that a particular medication is a necessary drug for the health and treatment of the people, the National Health Insurance Service covers 70 percent of the drug price, while the patient covers the rest.

Since the state covers the majority of the cost of those drugs, the prescriptions and preparations for these drugs are strictly recorded in the DUR system. On the other hand, for drugs that are deemed "non-essential," these drugs are classified as “not covered" and the patient must pay 100 percent of the drug price. In these cases, the prescriptions are often not recorded in the DUR system, the KPA said.

When using telemedicine in the case of medications classified as not covered, there are concerns that patients could potentially use the same pdf prescription document more than once by using it at multiple pharmacies, which is impossible for patients seeing the doctors in person, according to local reports.

“The government must strictly manage to prevent such blind spots from occurring in the process of implementing telemedicine services,” the KPA said.

Telemedicine can be accessed through a number of local platform apps, and under the pilot program, it has been available for use by patients after their first in-person examination.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said it will supplement the telemedicine program by holding several public hearings involving all related groups, as it launched the second telemedicine pilot program on Sept. 1.