With South Korea pushing to increase the number of doctors in the country by expanding the medical school enrollment quota, a study has showed that the addition of one extra doctor per 100,000 people to the day-to-day health care sector can reduce the death rate by 0.11 percent.
Researchers from Seoul National University Hospital analyzed Ministry of Health and Welfare data from 2016 to 2020 to find the correlation between the number of primary care doctors and the death rate in the South Korean population. Primary medical care refers to general health care provided on a day-to-day basis, such as by physicians at local clinics.
The number of doctors in the South Korean primary care sector was 42.41 per 100,000 people in 2020, up from 37.05 in 2016. For the purpose of the study, researchers excluded those in the fields of aesthetic and plastic surgery, as they have a limited impact on death rates.
The study showed that the addition of doctors directly affects the death rate across most sectors, ranging from cardiovascular to pulmonary diseases. But such correlation was not prevalent for infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.
"There have been discussions over the necessity of essential medical service fields such as emergency treatment, but not so much about the primary care sector, which is among the weakest points in the local medical sector. ... The importance of primary care and its advancement must be discussed by society," said Dr. Cho Be-long of SNUH's department of family medicine, who participated in the study.
He noted that even for severe diseases, doctors in primary care can manage the illness by providing medication and vaccines.
The results came in accordance with studies in other countries, researchers noted. In 2019, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School conducted a study that found adding 10 primary care physicians per 100,000 people in the US was associated with 51.5-day increase in life expectancy.
The SNUH study was published in the most recent edition of the Korean Journal of Family Medicine.
The South Korean government last week unveiled plans to increase the medical school quota by 2,000 by next year, a plan that has faced opposition from doctors across the country.