Ministry plans to expand pediatric hospitals, services
The government plans to nearly triple the number of pediatric medical service centers that operate 24 hours.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare on Wednesday announced plans to improve medical services for children.
The move comes as the shrinking number of pediatric medical centers becomes a major social concern, particularly since Korea’s fertility rate hit a new low last year.
The plan calls for increasing the number for 24-hour pediatric hospitals participating in the so-called Moonlight medical program from 34 to 100.
It will also subsidize a portion of the late night and holiday operation costs of hospitals participating in the program, which began in 2014 with just nine facilities.
Four additional public medical centers for children will join the 10 currently in operation, especially in areas that have few medical service centers.
The expansion of medical services for children is also expected to improve access to other hospitals for emergency patients and people with serious illnesses.
To attract pediatricians, the government will raise health insurance reimbursement on medical services for infants under 1 year old to 50 percent. The current reimbursement rate is just 30 percent for patients under 7 years old.
President Yoon Suk Yeol emphasized the need to implement digital technology so that children can receive medical diagnoses without a late-night visit to the doctor.
“We have to establish a system where patients can have access 24 hours not only by phone but also virtually,” Yoon said while visiting Seoul National University Hospital on Wednesday.
“I have ordered the Education Ministry to elevate our education and childcare environment to be the world’s best,” Yoon said. “But what good would it be if children are sick.”
Yoon said the government will utilize every resource it has to strengthen the pediatric medical system.
“Our society has improved in many areas,” Yoon said. “Yet because of the continuously dropping fertility rates, there is a serious shortage of pediatric hospitals compared to when we were growing up.”
“If a child falls sick, they should be properly treated,” the president said. “A mother should be able to rush to the hospital if a child has a seizure and she is faced with a difficult situation or be able to call to a professional to get counseling.”
He said that in meeting with young patients one who is only 19 months old and treated for cancer as well as medical staff including doctors and nurses, he concluded that public policy on pediatric medical services has to be reinforced by cooperating with the medical community so that children can grow up in comfort.
“It is a country’s top priority to look after the health of its children,” Yoon said.
“The fault of doctors avoiding pediatrics is not the doctors’ fault but that of government policy,” Yoon said. “There is nothing more urgent than this, and if we are short on health insurance, we need to make changes even if by injecting government funding.”
According to the health ministry, the number of hospitals that specializes on children and adolescent care has been shrinking. Last year there were 3,247 such hospitals, 61 less than in 2017.
In 2019, one hospital reported an operating loss of 13.5 billion won ($10.3 million).
Hospitals have been struggling to find pediatricians. In 2020, 68.2 percent of hospitals were able to secure a pediatrician, but the ratio dropped to 27.5 percent last year.
Some pediatricians have moved on to other fields, including tending to the elderly as Korea’s aging population grows.
BY LEE HO-JEONG [email@example.com]