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Old man and the hospital (KOR)

July 15,2019
KIM SEUNG-HYUN

A grey-haired man blankly stared at the air. His doctor was explaining a CT image on the computer screen to the octogenarian patient. He did not care about the blank face of the patient. It was a moment of short and intense miscommunication. The doctor quickly moved the mouse, as the next patient was waiting.

“You see something here! This requires a test,” said the doctor. But the old man missed “here.” He retired before ever using a computer mouse in his life and did not know the existence of a small curser in the screen. He did not expect that the consultation was all about the movement of the mouse. Leaving the doctor’s office, he said it was his fault to be sick.

Recently, the Blue House online petition board had a posting saying that because 90 percent of medical institutions in Korea were private, they lack public service and compete for patients. The petitioner also claimed that health checkups were left to the market, posing a risk of over-diagnosis. Some doctors argue that primary care should be reinforced by introducing a primary physician system at the national level to correct the issues of excessive diagnosis, overdependence on large hospitals and the alienation of patients.

Catholic University Medical School professor Lee Jae-ho said that when you have to decide which boat to ride and where to go in the vast and dangerous sea of information, science and technology — which is called “medicine” — individuals take a risk when making a choice. When you are drifting in the sea of hospitals, you would not want to take the slightest chance. In “Old Man and the Sea,” Santiago tackled all the challenges at sea. But he would have been defeated with a number in his hand waiting for his turn at a large Korean hospital.

How did these big hospitals become spaces of complaints and discontent? Was cold treatment the only choice for them to deal with the number of patients who visit them? Can medicine be humane? I want to ask these questions in the age when the smartest students even prepare for medical school admission from high school.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.