More than six out of 10 Korean people said they supported the government’s plan to increase the number of physicians, a survey showed.

The Seoul National University Hospital’s Institute of Public Health and Medical Care released the survey results on Korean people, which aimed to understand their use of medical institutions, attitudes, the impact of Covid-19 on the use of healthcare services, and their perceptions of healthcare policies.

The hospital commissioned the Gallup survey, which asked 2,097 people aged between 19 and 68 nationwide about a structured questionnaire from October to December 2020.

The results showed that 64.9 percent of the respondents said they support the idea of increasing physicians, and 54.3 percent said they backed the government’s push to establish a public medical school. By age group, those in their 40s expressed the strongest support for the policy, with 74.5 percent supporting the government’s policy.

Asked why they supported the policy to increase physicians, 70 percent said there was a shortage of medical professionals, and 22.9 percent said it would improve medical services access.

Those who opposed the policy said they were concerned about a fall in the quality of medical services (25.8 percent), and there were already sufficient doctors (12.8 percent).

About 54 percent said they were for establishing a state-run medical school, while a similar percentage said they were against it.

The respondents supporting the idea said it would relieve the shortage of medical services (30 percent) and improve healthcare access (20.6 percent).

Those opposing it said it would worsen the quality of medical care (23.4 percent).

Asked whether the government should continue to operate state-run hospitals despite losses, 41.9 percent said yes, and 40.3 percent said the government should operate them at a level that does not make losses.

In the question about policies related to nurturing professionals in the public healthcare sector, the highest 42.3 percent said the government should make it possible for national university hospitals and provincial medical institutions to dispatch doctors, trainee physicians and conduct consignment management.

Regarding telemedicine, 73.1 percent supported remote collaborations between doctors, 71.4 percent supported partnerships in which doctors check the examinations' results remotely, and 70.4 percent were for telemedicine, where doctors continuously monitor the patient’s condition.

Korean visit neighbor clinic for mild symptoms, tertiary hospital for serious ones

As for people’s behavior of using medical institutions and services, 51.5 percent said they had chronic illnesses, and the respondents had 1.55 chronic diseases on average.

In choosing the type of the medical institution by disease, most people (70.8 percent) said they would use a mom-and-pop clinic in case of mild illnesses such as cold. In contrast, if they have to get an appendectomy, 64.9 percent said they would visit a general hospital, and 19 percent said they would choose a tertiary hospital. If they had cancer or other serious diseases, 83.1 percent said they would use a tertiary hospital.

When choosing a medical institution for hospitalization or surgery, 91.4 percent said they would consider the disease's severity first, and 87.4 percent, the medical institution’s reputation. About 79 percent of the total respondents said they would choose a medical institution first, rather than a doctor.

In the survey on doctors and institutions' reliability, the largest 31.2 percent said the Seoul National University Hospital could be a national central hospital, followed by the National Medical Center with 23.9 percent, and the National Cancer Center with 14.1 percent.

Twenty-eight percent said they chose those hospitals because they were state-run institutions. Other reasons included “because their medical staff was highly skilled” (15.8 percent), “because they were famous” (15.4 percent), and “because they were reliable (13.6 percent).”

Medical care, emergency care delayed due to Covid-19

To control and prevent infectious disease in the future, the largest proportion of 34.7 percent said it would be most effective to provide free vaccines. Another 29.1 percent said establishing an infectious disease-specializing hospital would be effective.

In questions about how Covid-19 affected their use of medical services, 10.3 percent said their regular examinations got delayed. Eight percent said they could not see a doctor, or the doctor's appointment got pushed back unless it was related to their chronic illness, and 25.8 percent said they delayed their regular health checkup.

After the Covid-19 outbreak, only 6.6 percent said they received emergency treatment, and 39.6 percent said they failed to get urgent treatment even though they needed to.

Reasons for failing to get emergency treatment included, “I was worried about contacting a Covid-19 patient,” and “Because the nearby emergency center was closed and it was difficult to find an available emergency center.”

Hong Yun-chul, director of the SNUH’s Institute of Public Health and Medical Care, said the survey could recognize the public’s perception of the need to increase doctors and nurture professionals in the public health sector amid Covid-19.

“Just as the survey showed, Covid-19 has affected not only health behavior but also the use of medical services, and there is concern that it will affect people’s health in the long term,” Hong said.

Based on the survey results, the nation needs to prevent infectious diseases and establish healthcare policies to promote people’s health, improve the working environment for medical manpower to increase the workforce in public health, and support talented people's nurturing.

As 31.2 percent of the surveyed thought the SNUH would be best fitted to be a national central hospital, the SNUH should contribute to public health with social responsibility, he added.

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