The Korea Herald


S. Korea to expand telemedicine services in remote areas

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : Dec. 1, 2023 - 15:44

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South Korea is moving to permit telemedicine services for first-time patients residing in regions categorized as "medically vulnerable areas" during the nighttime and holidays, starting from mid-December, the Ministry of Welfare and Health announced Friday.

The initiative aims to enhance patient accessibility to essential medical care, especially during emergencies.

The temporary allowance of non-face-to-face medical services, commonly referred to as telemedicine, was first introduced in South Korea in February 2020. This decision was made in response to the government elevating the classification of COVID-19 to the highest level within its four-tier system, as part of efforts to address the challenges posed by infectious diseases.

Since its initiation, telemedicine services in South Korea have been restricted to first-time patients residing on islands and in mountainous or isolated areas.

But beginning on Dec. 15, such services will be extended to 98 cities, counties and districts identified as "medically vulnerable areas," the ministry said. The areas represent 39 percent of Korea's total 250 cities, counties and districts.

Medically vulnerable areas are characterized by a population in a city or county where the percentage of individuals unable to reach a regional emergency medical center within 30 minutes exceeds 30 percent.

Even though the legal basis for such services diminished following the government's downgrade of the COVID-19 classification in June, there has been significant demand to persist with non-face-to-face medical services.

In response to such demand, the ministry initiated a three-month guided telemedicine pilot in September, with the intention of officially launching a nationwide telemedicine program thereafter.

In the pilot phase, the service is currently extended to individuals such as those with chronic diseases who have completed their initial in-person visits, people with disabilities, individuals residing on remote islands, and those dealing with infectious diseases.