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In March, a seriously injured teenager in Daegu died after visiting eight emergency rooms for two hours. This can happen anywhere in South Korea. Even in the middle of Seoul, there are many cases of cardiac arrest patients dying while seeking a hospital. That's why SBS has prepared a series of reports examining our emergency medical system and looking for alternatives.

First of all, this is medical reporter Cho Dong-chan.

<Cho Dong-chan, medical reporter>
119 arrived, a man in his 50s was lying down.

[Emergency dispatch situation at the time (provided by 119): It hurts here. (Does it hurt here?)]

Men struggle to get up.

[Oh.... I'm going to die.]

As soon as the patient is transferred to the ambulance, the patient's heart stops.

[We'll charge (electric charging). (Vicky, electric shock.)]

After two minutes of CPR, the patient's heart began to beat again.

Emergency room beds are not available, but paramedics are heading to the nearest university hospital.

[Emergency dispatch status at the time (provided by 119): You haven't been selected for the hospital yet, right? (Just go to a hospital that doesn't say "not all patients.") ○○I'll go to the hospital. If you go and get it, you get it.]

In the meantime, fortunately, he regains consciousness.

[Teacher, can you hear me?

But then the patient's heart stopped again, and the paramedics performed CPR again.

Even in this situation, one paramedic has to hold on to the phone and go to the hospital.

[Paramedics dispatch at the time (provided by 119): We kept looking into it and went to the front of the hospital, but they were refused. (No, why don't we have a hospital.)]

The man, aged in his 50s, was given CPR more than four times in the ambulance alone and was taken to a hospital 10 kilometres away, where he later died.

[Kim Sung-hyun/Paramedic at Yeoksam 119 Safety Center, Gangnam Fire Department: All of them are impossible now, all of them are impossible, and I don't know what they would do if all of the 119 in one country were disabled, so in this situation.]

As of 2021, there were 7,634 so-called emergency room hit-and-runs.

What's more, cases like this one that end in tragedy in an ambulance because they can't even get to the hospital aren't even caught.

In one year, 119 paramedics transported 33,235 cardiac arrest patients, of which 7.3% survived.

This is an improvement from the past, but it is still below the international average of 10%.

(Video Interview: Han Il-il, Jae-il, Video Editing: Lee Seung-seung, CG: Kang Yoon-jung, Son Seung-pil)


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As you
can see, there is a reason why patients have to travel around in ambulances even in Seoul, which has more hospitals than other regions. That's because there are a lot of patients with relatively mild symptoms in hospital emergency beds.

This is reporter Kim Min-jun to see what the situation is.

<Reporter Kim Min-joon>
This is a conversation from a
paramedic to hospitals looking for emergency beds for cardiac arrest patients.

[Hospital A: Sir, we're doing CPR, we can't.]

[Hospital B: We can't help it, we also sent it to the Situation Room at 119.]

At that time, the status board of emergency department beds in Seoul, most of them were written as minus, which means the number of patients waiting for emergency beds to be full.

There are many hospitals that do not accept any patients, and the situation is the same on other days.

There are more than 1,200 emergency beds in Seoul, which is three times the OECD average.

Yet, the reason for the daily shortage is precisely because of mild cases.

After receiving the report, the paramedic visits the patient's home.

He is a man in his 40s and had a stomach ache and tried to go to University Hospital, but when he couldn't get an appointment, he called 119 because he wanted to be treated through the emergency room.

[Paramedic A: (At the hospital) There are a lot of patients right now, and we don't have a bed to lie down on, so we have to sit down and see you. Are you okay?]

[Patient: Yes, I see.]

There are more than 3.15 million 119 calls a year, one call every 10 seconds and a patient being transported to the emergency room every 17.8 seconds.

Among them, there are more than 310,000 cases of the four major serious diseases such as cardiac arrest and stroke, accounting for only 10%.

As a result, it is not uncommon to see a long line of ambulances in front of the emergency room.

An ambulance is waiting with a mildly ill patient, and during this time, it's one hour, two hours, and of course emergency dispatch is not possible.

[Paramedic B: You have to wait with the patient, whether it's 1 hour or 2 hours. Because you have to get an autograph from the medical staff....]

The first step in reviving the emergency room is to return it to the place of the seriously ill emergency patient.

(VideoInterview: Jaeil, Video Editing: Won Hyung-hee)

< anchor>
Let's talk more about
this with medical reporter Cho Dong-chan.

Q. Patients who die from cardiac arrest are likely to recover?

[Cho Dong-chan, medical reporter: The patient had a myocardial infarction and regained consciousness after CPR, so if he had been treated to clear the blocked heart vessels at this time, the chance of recovery would have been more than 50%. However, after receiving CPR four times, it would not have been easy to resuscitate him no matter which hospital he went to. This patient was driving at night.]

Q. How many emergency room hit-and-runs are there for cardiac arrest patients?

[Cho Dong-chan, medical reporter: There are no statistics on hit-and-run in an ambulance without being admitted to the hospital, but it does not appear to be uncommon.]

[Paramedics: The reality is that one of you is driving, two are treating a seriously ill patient, a cardiac arrest patient, and you have to keep calling the hospital in the meantime.]

[Cho Dong-chan/Medical Reporter (Specialist): The shortage of essential medical staff is a challenge, but we need to change the reality and culture of emergency rooms so that cardiac arrest patients can be admitted to emergency beds first.]

Q. Where should I go for mild cases?

[Cho Dong-chan / Medical Reporter (Specialist): In Korea, there is no place to see medical treatment other than the emergency room on holidays and at night, and academics say that it is worth referring to the cases of the United States and Japan. What you see on the screen looks like a normal family home, and it says urgent clinics. On holidays or at night, primary care is seen here, and only when it is a real emergency, they are transferred to the emergency room of a large hospital. Japan also divides the emergency department into primary, secondary, and tertiary levels, so at first they go to the first, and then the medical staff reports here, and only serious diseases are secondary, Going to the 3rd round. We don't have such a system, so the emergency departments of the Big 5 hospitals also have a lot of mild cases.]

Q. What can I do right now?

[Cho Dong-chan / Medical Reporter (Specialist): In particular, stroke patients, severe emergencies, and children are urgent, as in the case of the nurse at Asan Hospital who was transferred to the hospital for brain surgery. We will report on this tomorrow (16th) and the day after tomorrow.]