Telemedicine use in Japan still at a nascent stage

The uptake of telemedicine is still at infancy stage in Japan compared to other countries in Asia such as China and Singapore.

Telemedicine had been prohibited for a long time and exceptions have been made only for those patients with chronic diseases and living on remote islands or in rural areas.

Several barriers existed to the widespread adoption of telemedicine in the country. One of the biggest barriers was opposition from the Japan Medical Association (JMA). The argument from the association was that it is difficult for doctors to carry out patient assessments precisely and recommend essential tests without seeing them in person.

Another barrier is that several health facilities do not accept credit card payment, which is needed for telemedicine. Further, older aged physicians are reluctant to embrace digital technologies.

The underuse of healthcare information technology (IT) systems such as electronic health record (EHR) is also acting as a barrier for telemedicine. Most health records continue to be kept as hard copy, such as prescription books, and hospitals are not connected by a central platform.

In 2015, the Government of Japan announced The Japan Vision: Health Care 2035 plan. The plan outlined the long-term evolution of the healthcare system in the country, and also included support for the use of telemedicine.

The development of a health care database to support telemedicine applications such as remote diagnosis, remote treatment, and telesurgery has been listed as priority in the plan.

The plan, however, limits telemedicine to only those patients receiving treatment for existing illnesses, with first-time consultations not being reimbursed. Further, doctors are not allowed to prescribe medications via telemedicine.

The analysis is based on data compiled by GlobalData from Nikkei and MHLW.

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