Thousands of South Korean doctors went on strike Monday to protest against the government policy to foster telemedicine services and allow the establishment of profitable affiliates.
A total of 8,339 town hospitals, or 29.1 percent of the total, were closed nationwide to join the collective walkout, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
More than 7,000 doctors participated in the strike, according to the Korean Medical Association which represents some 100,000 doctors in the country.
The association said that though the one-day strike can cause temporary suffering to patients, the telemedicine and profit- oriented medical services should be prevented.
President Park Geun-hye has insisted that the telemedicine should be fostered as a new growth engine amid the longer lifespan and aging population. Park said the current healthcare system, which depends solely on face-to-face diagnosis and treatment, would not meet growing demand for healthcare services.
The doctors, especially in town hospitals, complained that the telemedicine expansion will drive patients to visit large-scale general hospitals, reducing profits for small-sized ones.
Following the strike, doctors planned to hold another round of walkout for six days from March 24 if the government failed to meet their demands.
President Park said at a meeting with senior secretaries on Monday that specific groups defied changes and distorted facts to defend their vested interests, noting that any collective actions must not be taken to damage public health and daily livelihood of people.
Park said that the government will hold reasonable and constructive dialogue with doctors, but abnormal collective pursuit of interests and unreasonable defiance will be sternly dealt with according to law and principles.
Doctors have complained about exceptionally low charges for medical treatment under the country's public health insurance system. In response, the government will allow hospitals to set up affiliates for profit purpose.
Town hospitals, which have not enough capital and laborers to set up such affiliates, denounced the government policy as fueling profit-oriented hospitals.