SEOUL, July 29 (Korea Bizwire) –The Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service will roll up its sleeves to put brakes on hospitals abusing ultrasonography test. The figures for last year’s expenditure by patients on ultrasonography test certainly look suspicious enough to raise some eyebrows.
The health insurance service estimated the total expenditure made by patients for ultrasonography test last year to be 1,516.3 billion won (approximately US$1.48 billion). The spending for large-sized general hospitals was 419.2 billion won ($408.4 million), for medium-sized general hospitals it was 314.3 billion won ($306.1 million), for small hospitals 370.3 billion won ($360.6 million), and for doctor’s offices it was 412.0 billion won ($401.6 million).
A study by National Health Insurance Corporation shows that the amount spent on ultrasonography accounted for 11 percent of total uninsured medical cost, which is the third-largest proportion and the third-most burdensome cost factor for patients after optional treatments (26.1%) and amenity beds (11.7%).
It seems that almost every person in Korea has taken a ultrasonography test in the past several years. Many medical organizations, be it a high-class general hospital or a clinic in the neighborhood, recommend for an ultrasonography test for any medical conditions.
The cost for the test varies from hospital to hospital; some will ask for just for $20, while others may ask for up to $300. The price, indeed, can be varied depending on the quality of hospital facilities and staff, or the body part being tested on, but still it is too wide-ranging.
The reason behind this is because many hospitals regard the test as a cash cow and look for every chance to ask patients to take it. The price is completely determined by the hospital since the test is an uninsured payment item, and certainly no patient will put up an argument when his doctor asks for a test for “diagnostic purposes.”
The “overtreatment” such as this is prevalent and a serious problem. The incident rate of thyroid cancer in Korea was over ten times of that of the world average and the rate of spine surgery and caesarean operation in Korea is ranked at the top in the world. There are hospitals that will ask patients to take an MRI, which costs up to several thousands dollars, for a simple contusion.
This over-practicing may not just end up pick-pocketing the patients. Unnecessary surgeries may worsen the symptoms and even result patients living off of pills for the rest of their lives.
Certainly, the government’s effort seems urgent in recommending clinical practice guide which will stipulate the extent to which the test should be employed and in monitoring equipment use and related personnel to regulate abusive use of ultrasonography. Bold and practical sanctions such as decertification and reduction of insurance benefits need to be implemented upon those hospitals which over-practice.
By J. H. Kim (firstname.lastname@example.org)