“We were told that the surgery had to be done before age two. That’s only six months away, but we need to wait 18 months for the surgery,” said Kim (age 35), who lives in Gwangak-gu, Seoul. In 2021, Kim took his son to a pediatrics clinic when he was 18 months old and was diagnosed with strabismus. The doctor advised to have surgery and wrote a letter of referral to have the child treated at a larger hospital. Kim urgently visited major hospitals in Seoul but was told that he had to wait more than one year to get the surgery done by a pediatric ophthalmologist.
The number of days pending medical treatment for child patients from medical treatment reception to first outpatient care has increased by 70% compared to five years before. According to data by Rep. Lee Jeong-seong of the People Power Party received from national hospitals around the country, the number of days pending medical treatment has increased from 9.7 days in 2017 to 16.5 days as of last year. Fewer child patients and low medical fees deteriorated profitability for the department of pediatrics, discouraging many aspiring doctors who avoid pediatrics.
Hospitals say that the change is mainly triggered by the reduction in pediatric treatment at secondary medical institutions (hospitals). “There are a growing number of mid-sized hospitals closing down or reducing pediatric treatment, thereby causing patients to flock to large hospitals,” said Pusan National University Hospital staff. The hospital showed the largest increase by three-fold (11.6 days to 34.5 days).