Go to contents

90,000 Addicted to Medical Service Abuse

Posted November. 28, 2003 23:33,   


It is inevitable that one visits a hospital if the condition of disease isn’t relieved or when young children are sick.

However, it was pointed out that indiscreet, redundant treatment and wasting of health insurance premiums are caused by a number of patients who visit hospitals even with trivial symptoms and by hospitals or doctors who encourage patients to be treated repeatedly, taking advantage of their anxiety rather than giving them correct diagnoses and sufficient explanations.

A news reporting team from Dong-A Ilbo took a look at the actual condition of what has been termed “medical service shopping” by covering the treatment, in four different hospitals, of the same two patients with colds.

Park, a 56 years old female from Shindorim, Guro, Seoul, who had a slight sore throat and fever, went to a hospital in her neighborhood on the morning of November 25. The doctor gave her an injection after advising, “You have a slight sore throat. This is a common cold, and you should rest and have a humidifier operating nearby.” Park also received a prescription for two days worth of medicine.

Park visited another hospital in Yeongdungpo 30 minutes later. She told the doctor, “A doctor from another hospital a short while ago told me that I have caught a ‘common cold,’ but I’m worried since I haven’t been able to shake off my cold for a week.”

The doctor replied with a smile saying, “Welcome. You should get rid of a cold in its early stages.” Without asking what kind of injection or prescriptions she had previously received, the doctor told Park to “get an injection and go home.”

Lee, a 28 year old from Myeongil, Gangdong, Seoul, had a similar experience. After receiving an injection at a hospital in Mapo on the morning of November 24, Lee visited an otorhinolaryngologist in the neighborhood and said, “I have a sore throat and the previous treatment I received did not work.”

The doctor of this hospital also gave an injection without asking what kind of diagnosis and treatment Lee had received in the previous hospital and what was prescribed. When Lee was reluctant, saying, “I already received a shot this morning,” the doctor insisted, “No problem. Just get another one.” After getting a second injection and a prescription, Lee left the hospital hearing from a nurse, “Come back tomorrow.”

According to the National Health Insurance Corporation (NHIC), of the patients who underwent repeated treatment, 30 percent had colds and 16.2 percent had skin diseases. These made up the largest groups. About 40,000 patients who have either a cold or a skin disease visited three or more hospitals within five days.

The patients’ fall into medical service abuse is caused by fears that they can develop a serious illness, especially when the condition of a disease doesn’t improve. Actually, according to the result of a door-to-door survey carried out by NHIC, of the 3,028 patients who received repeated treatment four or more times in the past month, 58.4 percent (1,770) of them replied, “I keep going back to the hospital because the condition of the disease hasn’t improved.”

A more serious problem is the fact that hospitals and doctors manipulate their patients by using their anxiety regarding their illness.

Park, who cooperated in our experiment, said, “As I get older, even an insignificant disease can make me anxious,” adding, “I would be less anxious if even one of hospitals explains the symptom to me thoroughly, but they all tell me to just get an injection and go home. This prompts me to go to another hospital in search of a satisfying explanation.”

The representative of Health Right Network Cho Kyeong-ae said, “Repeated treatment doesn’t disappear because some doctors only care about having a large patient volume rather than treating these patients.” Cho also pointed out, “It is impossible to stop the wasting of health insurance premiums caused by unnecessary treatment unless the ethics of doctors are acted upon.”

roryrery@donga.com jarrett@donga.com