Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Oriental Medicine Professionals' Duty to Inform Patients

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Oriental Medicine Professionals' Duty to Inform Patients

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Oriental medicine has constituted a significant portion of health care in Korea, but discussion regarding the legal duties of Oriental medicine professionals has been marginalized. This article proposes the first step in discussing the duty of Oriental doctors and pharmacists to inform their patients about the medicine they provide. It begins by introducing the only decision the Supreme Court of Korea has made regarding the legal obligation of Oriental medicine professionals, where the Court held that the Oriental medicine retailer had a duty to provide information about the medicine being sold. This article supports that decision of the Supreme Court and further argues that other primary providers of Oriental medicine--Oriental doctors and pharmacists--should also bear the duty to inform. The conclusion is driven from the fundamental principle of the Korean Constitution: that everyone is entitled to the right to self-determination. In discussing the scope of information doctors and pharmacists should provide, this article notes the unique features of Oriental medicine used in Korea. The author concludes that Oriental doctors and pharmacists should inform their patients of the nature and effect of the medicine being provided, detailed usage instructions, potential risks associated with the medicine, and information regarding combined use with conventional medicine. As for restorative Oriental medicine, doctors and pharmacists should particularly provide instructions regarding its unique restorative purpose.

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Oriental medicine has constituted a significant portion of health care in Korea. In 1991, researcher Yong Il Lee found that nearly three out of four survey participants (74-4%) had used Oriental medicine in Korea. (1) Almost twenty years later, the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare confirmed this finding by reporting that more than four out of five Koreans (81.5%) had had an experience with Oriental medicine. (2) Furthermore, over half of these respondents (69%) expressed willingness to use Oriental medicine again in the future. (3) The Ministry also reported that nearly nine out of ten Koreans over 60 years of age (87.8%) had been using Oriental medicine, and that a great majority of the users (90.4%) were satisfied with this medicine. (4) It is thus highly likely that the use of Oriental medicine will continue to grow as Korean society ages. (5) In response to this increase, the Korean National Health Insurance plan started to cover some uses of Oriental medicine in the late 1980s, and this expanded insurance coverage is expected to further boost the consumption of Oriental medicine. (6)

Despite the prevalent use of Oriental medicine in Korea, little research on the legal aspects of Oriental medicine has been published. Probably due to Korea's current favorable attitude towards modernity, the laws governing conventional medicine have been actively discussed, but the laws regarding Oriental medicine have been seriously marginalized. (7) Only one scholarly article has been published, which discusses a case involving an Oriental medicine retailer's duty to inform. (8) Several graduate theses have discussed Oriental medicine professionals' duty to inform.

Oriental medicine has unique characteristics that need to be taken into consideration when defining the responsibility of Oriental medicine professionals. (9) Treatments provided by Oriental medicine professionals are often based on a holistic understanding of the human body--an understanding that is fundamentally different from the theory of conventional medicine. (10) In addition, consumers of Oriental medicine are reported to be less informed about their medicine as compared to users of conventional medicine. (11) These features of Oriental medicine make expert-provided information more crucial for consumers to make an informed decision. They also point to a need for Oriental medicine professionals to provide an extended scope of information about the medicine being provided. …

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