Chris van Weel at Korean Academy conference

At the conference in Seoul, Prof van Weel (second from right) with Prof JK Lee, WONCA Asia Pacific region president (far left) and Prof Kyunghee Cho (far right)

News from Korea

The Korean Academy of Family Medicine(KAFM) fall conference was held in Seoul, Korea on Oct 11-13, 2013, with the theme, ‘Primary prevention of cardio-cerebrovascular disease by family doctors’.

At the conference, Korea family doctors coined the slogan, ‘What is my vascular age?’ and presented a customized health care program which gives assessment of cardio-cerebrovascular disease risk for Koreans. This program estimates patients’ risk based on the domestic epidemiologic data and also gives out visualized patients’ vascular ages as images. It is deemed a valuable tool for early management and detection of cardio-cerebrovascular disease and good communicating tool between doctors and patients.

At the plenary session, Prof Chris Van Weel, past president of Wonca (2007-10), gave an inspiring lecture, titled ‘The importance of community based primary care practice’. In his plenary lecture, Prof van Weel emphasized the importance of the community as the foundational base of primary care and research, teaching, and practice of primary care as a systemized chain of network, into which all three have to be merged based on the same foundation, the community. He also asserted that the future of Korean family medicine depends on how well family medicine is blended into the community and, at the same time, proves to be a competent leader of community-based health care system, not hospital-based health care system. He also shared his opinion on how to teach and train the future primary care physicians including residents and students through another lecture titled ‘Primary care residency training in European countries’ at another session of the conference.

He was invited to the conference as the recipient of Song Jung Award by Song Jung Memorial Foundation (see photo), established to commemorate one of the forefathers of Korean Family Medicine, Dr Bang-Bu Youn. (more about the Song Jung Award)

The conference was a huge success with the total number of 1775 registrants, family medicine doctors around the country.

Prof Kyunghee Cho
Former President of KAFM

Chris van Weel writes of his experience in Korea.

In 2018, Seoul will be the place of the Wonca World Conference and this perspective gave an additional flavor to the invitation by the Korean Academy of Family Medicine (KAFM) (for me to attend their conference).

A visit to Korea is visiting a leading country in the development of smart technology. Even before disembarking at Incheon International Airport, I became aware of this, from the large numbers of freight planes, ready to fly out smartphones to the rest of the world. From the airport to the clinic: technology all around and above all, I discovered, in health care.

Health care in Korea is hospitals – large hospitals with a large variety of specializations and specialists. Among the many also family medicine. The context in which physicians work, determines to a large extent their performance and in the hospital context the disease paradigm and the medical model dominate. This is the context, the mind-set in which family medicine has to demonstrate its value. It is also the context against which the Korean government has to project its future. And whatever the strength of hospital care, or the power of the medical sub-specialists organization, concerns over how tenable this is, begin to emerge. To secure health care for the future, policy is starting to focus on where most governments in most countries are focusing on: community based primary care.

This was the theme I was asked to carry though the annual conference of the KAFM. Inevitable, highlighting prevention, community priorities, integration of mental and physical health or continuity of care represents a different world. But it was exciting to see how wholeheartedly Korean family physicians warmed to the basic values and concepts if primary care. Here, the importance of international interaction becomes clear. And Korean family medicine has much to owe to the leadership of their founders who established the links to Wonca, epitomized in the person of Prof Bang-Bu Youn, but also of Prof Bon-Yul Huh and Prof Kyunghee Cho.

The gap between the desired, community leading, role of family medicine and its current designated one in the hospital setting, is large. Powers to oppose its transition are formidable. That is as it is, but against this, the enthusiasm and engagement of the KAFM is most encouraging. And it was, in particular, moving to experience the strong resonance with the pending paradigm shift Korea is facing, amongst residents and young family physicians.

At the conclusion of my week in Seoul I was much taken-in by our Korean Colleagues: they offer a wonderful hospitality, based in the unique Korean culture, traditions and customs; in a city that is vibrant, clean and safe. All very important and promising conditions for the years ahead, in which Seoul and Korea will feature in a variety of roles in the future of primary care and family medicine.

Prof Chris van Weel
Emeritus Professor of Family Medicine/General Practice
Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Professor of Primary Health Care Research, Australian National University, Canberra
Past President of Wonca