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Excessive hospital beds in Korea hurt healthcare qualityKorea's Healthcare System Overview② Bed
  • By Song Soo-youn
  • Published 2018.03.13 09:19
  • Updated 2018.03.13 10:34
  • comments 0

Too many hospital beds in Korea are making it difficult for medical workers to provide quality service for patients, experts said.

Voices are growing the latest fire, which killed more than 40 people at Sejong Hospital in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province, was an alarm to dispose of small, low-quality hospitals and reduce the overall number of hospital beds.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the country had 64,999 medical institutions in 2016. The total includes 341 large general hospitals, 1,386 long-term care hospitals, 1,510 hospitals, and 30,157 clinics.

The others break down into three tuberculosis hospitals, one leprosy hospital, 42 mental hospitals, 223 dental hospitals, 16,996 dental clinics, 282 Oriental medicine hospitals, and 13,860 Oriental medicine clinics. There were also 170 dispensaries for corporate employees, 28 midwifery clinics, and 3,136 care facilities for the elderly.

It is notable that 52 percent of the total medical institutions are in the Seoul metropolitan area, including Incheon and Gyeonggi Province. Seoul had the most with 16,835, accounting for 26 percent of the total. Gyeonggi Province had 13,854, or 21.3 percent, and Incheon, 3,125, or 4 percent.

Korea had 126.8 medical institutions per population of 100,000 in 2016, up 2.5 from 124.3 in 2015. The total number of beds at the hospitals amounted to 692,345, with 35.6 percent, or 246,373 beds, belonging to long-term care hospitals. Although long-term care hospitals take up only 12.1 percent of the total hospitals, their number of beds represents more than one-third of the total.

Just as hospitals are concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan area, more than one-third of the hospital beds are also located in Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province. Seoul has 86,630 hospital beds or 12.5 percent of the total. In Incheon, there are 32,093 beds, or 4.6 percent, and in Gyeonggi, the most with 129,320 beds, or 18.7 percent.

Korea ranks 2nd in hospital beds after Japan

Korea is in the top group among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development regarding hospital beds.

According to the OECD Health Statistics, Korea had 11.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people in 2015, after Japan’s 13.2. Korea was followed by Germany with 8.1. Japan and Korea were the only countries that had more than 10 hospital beds per 1,000 people among 32 OECD member countries.

Particularly, Korea has more long-term care beds than Japan, which is a super-aged society. As of 2014, Korea had the second highest number of acute care beds with 7.3, next to Japan’s 7.9, among the OECD nations. Regarding long-term care beds, Korea topped the list with 34.1, more than three times that of Japan with 10.3.

To curb the growth of hospital beds, the government is pushing to establish a new category for rehabilitation hospitals and move some beds of long-term care hospitals to rehabilitation hospitals. Currently, hospitals are classified in two -- acute care hospitals and long-term care hospitals.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare has been carrying out a pilot project for rehabilitation hospitals since October last year. The government plans to start the project in earnest in 2019 and expand beds at rehabilitation hospitals. Then, a considerable amount of hospital beds will be moved to rehabilitation hospitals in a phased way, the government said.

Experts called for a stricter regulation to put a cap on new hospital beds.

“We should change the central government’s authority of adjusting the supply of hospital beds from ‘recommendation’ to ‘duty’ under the Medical Service Act,” said Yim Jun, a professor at the University of Seoul. “The government should enhance regulatory power so that any increase of new hospital beds and large hospitals requires approval in advance, particularly in the oversupplied area.”

Yim went on to say, "Reform of the supply structure should be carried out, including the expansion of appropriate hospital-scale medical institutions that can fulfill its role in the health service delivery system, the withdrawal of medical institutions that are not in place, and the restoration of functions.”

Source: OECD Health Statistics 2017


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