Telehealth: New Page in the Health System
Telehealth: New Page in the Health System
  • Reporter Song Geun-seok
  • 승인 2022.03.29 02:42
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▲Telehealth at Gangnam Severance Hospital Seoul / JoongAng

The spread of COVID-19 is removing barriers to telehealth, which refers to the provision of digital healthcare services. As part of the fourth industrial revolution advances such as metaverse and blockchain, this new type of medical service is gradually increasing through online platforms and advancing from the traditional health system. Recently, the rise of Omicron, which is seemingly less severe but much more contagious compared to previous variants, resulted in greater attention given to telehealth.
The global telehealth market is growing every year. According to Fortune Business Insights, a global market research report, the telehealth market grew by 25.2% annually since 2019 and is expected to reach 559.5 billion USD in 2027. Similarly, it was reported that the investments in digital healthcare services doubled since 2019. It is analyzed that this rise is attributed to consumers’ increasing demand for contactless medical treatment and remote monitoring after COVID-19 broke out. In fact, since 2020, many countries including the U.S, U.K, Japan, and Germany began relaxing telehealth regulations and revised regulations about personal information to support the activation of telehealth.
In Korea, telehealth remains a hot potato. Under the current medical law, telehealth, or any kind of remote health treatment is illegal. However, as the pandemic became severe, the Korean government temporarily changed regulations in Feb. 2021 to permit some contactless treatments such as phone counseling or prescriptions, and this has lasted for over two years. Since then, the telehealth market has been rising sharply. So far, more than 20 related companies have been established, and the number of non-face-to-face treatments has accumulated approximately 3.5 million as of January.
Traditionally, the medical community has voiced opposition to telehealth. The community has mentioned that telehealth is inefficient, and questions remain about the accuracy of treatment. They also mentioned that telehealth may cause patients’ concentrations on specific hospitals causing overload, the rise of medical costs, and issues regarding the responsibility to misdiagnosis.
However, this negative perception is gradually changing. According to a survey by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) in 2021, 69.2% of the medical staff and 87.3% of the citizens said that they are willing to actively use telehealth. Similarly, more than 70% of the respondents answered that a digital healthcare system is necessary. Most patients who have experienced telehealth anticipated that telehealth would allow them to monitor their health status continuously without time or space constraints. Yet, only 35% of medical staff expressed satisfaction with the current telehealth system but still stressed its necessity. Lee Sang-duck, the director of Hana Ent Hospital, said that “Telehealth could be the key in the current aging society. Through telehealth, patients can minimize their visits to hospitals, and we can provide better services to elderly people with limited mobility by telehealth.”
Meanwhile, attempts to build up a digital-healthcare environment are growing in South Korea. For example, Naver established a testbed benchmarking Amazon Care to test medical AI development, data processing, and telehealth. Similarly, Kakao established a healthcare company-in-company (CIC), focusing on a model that combines big data related to medical care using blockchain. DoctorNow, a major telehealth platform that achieved 1.4 million users also began implementing services to people in self-quarantine. By providing symptoms to the app, one can receive an answer from medical staff and medicine by delivery.
For now, a revised bill to allow some telehealth has been proposed to the National Assembly. However, there are still many considerations for the complete introduction of telehealth. In Dec. 2021, the Korean Medical Association Organization pointed out that it is premature to implement telehealth as it lacks technical infrastructure. They also stated that having patients in person is a medical necessity, and telehealth which does not abide by this principle may damage public health.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the telehealth market will continue to grow. Many expect that telehealth will settle as a “new normal” to the medical service system. Accordingly, it seems necessary to discuss how our society will respond to telehealth in the future.

▲ Telehealth illustration / Stat News