Tue, Mar 17, 2015 - Page 3 News List

‘Medical arms race’ hurts healthcare: ex-minister

ROBOT OVERLORDS:Spending on high-tech systems instead of salaries harms public health, an ex-health minister said at a National Health Insurance anniversary

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter

President Ma Ying-jeou, center, waits onstage as workers assemble a platform for a group photo at a seminar in Taipei yesterday morning marking the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the National Health Insurance system.

Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times

While many blame the government for the “physician drain” that is plaguing medical divisions that treat acute, chronic and complicated diseases, the decision by most hospitals nationwide to spend substantial amounts of money in a “medical arms race” instead of providing pay raises to staff is also responsible, former minister of health Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) said yesterday.

Yaung, a chaired professor at Asia University’s Department of Healthcare Administration, made the remarks at a seminar in Taipei yesterday marking the 20th anniversary of the start of the National Health Insurance (NHI) system.

“If Taiwan’s healthcare system is not the best of its kind in the world, it is at least one of the finest,” Yaung said. “Nevertheless, I am not saying that the government is not responsible for the exodus of healthcare workers suffered by the nation’s five medical divisions — internal medicine; surgery; gynecology and obstetrics; pediatrics; and emergency care — but that hospitals in the nation have also played their part in this serious phenomenon.”

If the nation’s hospitals face operational difficulties as they have claimed, they would not have been able to spend large sums of money engaging in a medical arms race, Yaung said.

The problem lies in how most medical institutions are controlled by large corporations, he said.

Yaung’s comments reflect the presence of 26 NT$100 million (US$3.16 million) da Vinci robotic surgical systems nationwide as of this year, making Taiwan one of the nations with the highest density of the robotic platform.

According to a provider of the system, about 2,700 da Vinci-based surgeries are performed in Taiwan each year, which amount to a total of NT$810 million in surgical fees, based on estimates that each operation costs about NT$300,000.

Yaung urged the government to revise the Corporation Act (財團法人法) draft to change the formation of hospitals’ boards of directors.

“The board should include two ground-level staff members, two people selected by the local borough warden and two patients. Allowing these six individuals on the board would force the hospital to improve their patient care when there is surplus revenue,” Yaung said.

“Whether such a change is possible depends on whether Ministry of Health and Welfare Minister Chiang Been-huang (蔣丙煌) has the guts to take action,” he added.

In response, the ministry said later yesterday that the draft act was overseen by the Ministry of Justice and it had invited related government agencies to deliberate on the matter.

The anniversary event was attended by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and more than 100 healthcare specialists from 23 nations.

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