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Korea to revamp emergency medical services

March 22, 2023 - 15:28 By Lee Jaeeun
Health and Welfare Minister Cho Kyu-hong presents the Health Ministry's five-year plan at the Government Complex Seoul, Tuesday. (The Ministry of Health and Welfare)

The government unveiled a five-year plan aimed at improving emergency medical services throughout the region on Tuesday. Under the new plan, paramedics will play a vital role in determining the severity of patients' conditions and directing them to the appropriate emergency room. This approach is expected to reduce wait times and improve patient outcomes.

To help optimize resources and ensure patients receive the best possible care, emergency rooms at hospitals will be graded into three categories. Larger hospitals will be equipped to handle severe cases, such as cardiac arrests and other life-threatening conditions, while smaller facilities will be better suited to treat minor injuries and ailments.

The plan came amid growing concerns over serious patients left to die in emergency rooms or die while transferring. According to the National Fire Agency, 198 cases died while moving to other emergency rooms due to being pushed back on the priority list from January to July last year.

Currently, all patients are treated in all emergency rooms regardless of symptom severity. The Health Ministry will help patients make self-assessment of their condition via smartphones applications when visiting emergency rooms.

In areas that lack emergency rooms and trauma physicians, the new plan will implement a "shift work system" where doctors within the region rotate to give proper emergency treatments.

The number of dedicated medical helicopters, referred to as "doctor helicopters," will also be increased. The total number of choppers operated nationwide will be raised from the current eight to 12 by 2025. These choppers are used to transport gravely sick patients living in remote areas who cannot be readily reached by conventional ambulances to emergency rooms in large university hospitals.