All eyes in the field of mHealth and telehealth technologies are focused on South Korea at the moment. After a longstanding prohibition on telemedicine, South Korea’s Cabinet passed a bill allowing doctors to utilize telehealth technology to diagnose and treat remote patients. The bill was approved on March 25, 2014 at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, and has been sent to the National Assembly for passage. Telehealth has also received the support of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who expressed her intent in January to position the telehealth industry as a growth engine for the country.
Historically, the widespread practice of telemedicine in Korea has been restricted by a provision in the medical practice laws that permits medical consultations only when the doctor is able to examine the patient in-person and face-to-face. In October 2013, Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare announced a plan to allow the use of telehealth technology to diagnose remote site patients (The plan also included a proposal to allow hospitals to create for-profit subsidiaries). In response, members of the Korean Medical Association threatened a doctor strike. However, a membership vote in early 2014 reflected that over 60% of the Korean Medical Association was in favor of the government’s telemedicine plan, and the doctor strike was suspended.
Under the current plan, South Korea will implement a six-month telemedicine pilot program, after which it will enact a bill allowing for telemedicine and for-profit subsidiaries. Patients with chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, people with disabilities and people living in remote areas will all be prime candidates for telemedicine services. Patients will be able to consult with doctors, receive diagnoses, and prescriptions for medications without an in-person visit. If the pilot program is successful, the telemedicine bill would be effective in 2015.
Opening the door to telehealth and mHealth in South Korea presents exceptional business opportunities to the health care industry, particularly manufacturers and suppliers of telehealth technologies.