Several years ago, I took a HIV test in order to fulfill an annoying job requirement in South Korea. My results came in but not from the doctor to me but from the doctor’s office straight to the front desk of my-soon-to-be-workplace. Then after the paper work came through the fax machine, a secretary handed it to the director, who proceeded to blurt out the status of said results: Bryan, your HIV result-uh is negative–good job!

Please, can someone show me which window did my privacy rights went through? It is ludicrous. I was mortified when the director broadcasted my business. Suppose the results were positive? I guess then, I’d just smile wryly and then swallow my fate. Not only that, he thought he would provide an impromptu English listening exercise at my expense, for the students waiting at the front desk.

I am begging the Ministry of Health (MH) in South Korea to move the country forward and make patients privacy rights paramount in the ensuing months. I wish the example above was the only embarrassing moment but it most certainly is not. On another visit to a different doctor’s office for a drug test, some nurses came inside to converse with me in broken English, after a while, the doctor and they were talking about my business above normal, conversing, decibel levels. They even did a brief Q & A to some nosy patients asking about my nationality and reasons for being at the doctor’s office.  I feel sorry for patients with super-private medical conditions. They go to some doctors thinking their privacy rights exist but they don’t. Frankly, many Koreans and expat residents visit medical offices at their own peril.

Privacy rights are very important but not in Korea. These medical folks take this saying too literally: Sharing is caring. One can’t help but cringe to go to doctors here. I’m afraid of going because certain conditions carry weighty stigmas. No wonder most Korean women don’t know what birth controls do  nor do they take them, for fear their community will assume they are slack. These folks take collectivism to a whole new level. Just recently, The Jeonju Hub ran an ad for a doctor who promises to respect his patient’s privacy concerns. To whom does he extend his open arms? Expat clients. Clearly, Koreans don’t share those concerns. I wonder if it is even a cultural value. Said doctor promised there is nothing to worry about. Phew! But how many clinics and hospitals can say the same? Not a lot. So get to work Mr. Minister of Health. There are some expats who refuse to declare their medical conditions or prescriptions to their superiors. Why? Most Koreans stigmatize certain complex medical issues. And doctors being Korean too, fall prey to that shortcoming. What’s their solution? Add to the patient’s trauma by broadcasting his condition or treating him or her like shit.  I am just saying  MH get it together.