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Surveillance cameras in operating rooms to be mandatory from this month

Sept. 1, 2023 - 14:26 By Lee Jaeeun

Hospitals will be required to install cameras in operating rooms and to video-record surgical procedures upon the request of patients or guardians from later this month, despite adamant opposition from doctors.

The Ministry of Government Legislation announced Friday that the amended Medical Service Act, which requires the installation of surveillance cameras in hospital operating rooms, will take effect on Sept. 25.

The revised regulation mandates hospitals to install the cameras in any room where patients undergo surgery under general anesthesia. This measure aims to safeguard patients from potential medical malpractice and ethical violations, such as surgeries performed by unqualified staff or possible assaults on sedated patients.

Surgeons cannot refuse to be recorded unless there is a valid reason, such as an urgent surgical need. The government is responsible for covering the costs of installing the cameras.

Viewing the video will be allowed upon request by an investigative body, a court, or when the patient and all medical personnel consent. Those accused of leaking, damaging or falsifying footage may face up to five years of imprisonment or a fine of up to 50 million won ($37,900).

Groups representing patients had long called for the measures. A civic group, the Medical Justice Practice Solidarity, said, "CCTV cameras must be installed in operating rooms to prevent the illegal practices of surrogate surgeries and other unethical medical treatments that threaten the lives of patients."

Most Koreans support the installation of cameras, according to a survey released by the Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission in 2021. Among the 13,959 respondents, 98 percent were in favor of installing surveillance cameras, citing the need to monitor potentially illegal medical procedures when patients are under anesthesia.

However, doctors have strongly opposed the cameras, saying installing CCTV cameras infringes upon the doctor’s autonomy.

A coalition of doctors' groups called the Korean Medical Association says that taping surgical procedures could lead physicians to take more defensive approaches to surgery to avoid possible lawsuits. They also argue that video monitoring will undermine trust in doctors and risked serious privacy breaches arising from the possibility of footage being leaked.

The KMA announced in July that it would file a constitutional appeal soon, claiming that it violates the freedom of job performance and the privacy of doctors.