“Do you have any difficulties because of Covid-19?”
“No, fortunately, I’m fine.”
“Any other problems with your health?”
“I've been taking hypertension drug (amlodipine) for two years, but my doctor gave me another medicine six months ago.”
“Is your blood pressure controlled well?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Amlodipine does not have many side effects. But if you feel something wrong, please let me know.”
This conversation took place between Oh Seung-min, head of the Virtual Care Center at Myongji Hospital, and Kim Yoon-cheol, president of the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta, during the remote medical counseling for Kim.
Earlier this month, Myongji Hospital opened the Virtual Care Center, the nation’s first integrated online and offline healthcare service provider that aims to offer “newly integrated life healthcare in the contactless era.”
Myongji Hospital signed an agreement with the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta for work collaboration in early October and another with the Association of Koreans in Guatemala. Under the agreements, the hospital will manage lifetime healthcare for more than 5,000 Koreans living in Atlanta, the U.S., and Guatemala.
Korea Biomedical Review has met with Oh to learn more about the Virtual Care Center and his plans for the center.
Question: Can you explain more about the Virtual Care Center?
Answer: So far, there have been some companies or private groups that provided remote medical services. But it is the first time in Korea that a medical institution is providing remote healthcare services directly. Myongji Hospital’s virtual care is similar to telemedicine in that medical professionals and patients are connected through computers, smartphones, and various wearable devices. However, virtual care is different from telemedicine in terms of the scope of services.
Q: Do you mean that virtual care is a broader concept than telemedicine?
A: Yes. Virtual care can be interpreted as “virtual healthcare” beyond telemedicine. Telemedicine refers to non-face-to-face monitoring using medical networks in two separate places, while virtual care goes beyond space and time to provide integrated services, including offline ones.
Q: Specifically, what kind of services will the Virtual Care Center provide?
A: In conventional offline medical services and even telemedicine, disease prevention, education, counseling, psychotherapy, and rehabilitation have been provided in fragments. Integrating all of them and managing them is the key to virtual care. The center will offer simple counseling and treatment and daily life management of chronically ill patients, constant monitoring on high-risk patients such as stroke patients, psychological counseling, and immediate medical intervention to secure golden time for patients in emergencies like cardiac arrest.
For example, the Virtual Care Center’s psychological counseling will be different from psychiatric care. If some of the counseled have to take the medication for depression, the center will refer to a psychiatrist. But not all of them have to. Not all people should visit a hospital to get counseling for diabetes management and health enhancement. These areas can be taken care of by virtual care. Virtual care is integrated and continuous care by using biosensors, remote monitoring, self-tests, bio-signal integrating big data, and AI analysis to provide daily health management, disease management, and emergency medicine.
Q: These services seem to be available not only for domestic patients but for those in foreign countries. Can you tell us about the recent agreement with the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta?
A: Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a growing need for emergency medical counseling. Such demands are stronger among Koreans living overseas, and we have launched the first-stage “Virtual Care” product. We will provide various healthcare services I mentioned earlier through the online network.
Q: How can you receive the Virtual Care Center’s services?
A: First, we will operate the center on a membership basis. We opened emergency counseling due to Covid-19, but we soon plan to start a health promotion program for health checkups and psychological counseling and therapy. To do so, we are running an independent center where physicians and counselors reside. We will increase the number of staff there from the current 10 to 30. We also plan to open a mobile application for virtual care.
Q: There could be a misunderstanding about the center’s virtual care service because Korea still bans telemedicine.
A: We can provide telemedicine only when it becomes legal. The current virtual care that we provide has nothing to do with telemedicine. If we say our virtual care covers 100, telemedicine takes up only about 10. We’re already busy doing the rest 90.
Q: What are your plans for the center?
A: Virtual care is a new system that aims to provide integrated and daily life healthcare services for a user in any place. It can be customized for individual patients, and we’re also planning a separate service for medical professionals. Our goal is to provide such services for people around the world.