Diffusion of Telemedicine Services in Japan

The deregulation of telemedicine in Japan has been gradually easing in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 and is expected to spread in the future. But the elderly, the main group of users of medical institutions, are not yet ready to actively use telemedicine, therefore, it is not expected to spread rapidly in a short period of time.

Background on the growing deregulation of telemedicine

In Japan, where the population is rapidly aging, the number of patients, especially the elderly, has been increasing markedly, and the burden on medical staff to cope with this increase has been growing year by year. In addition, the need for non-contact diagnosis arose with the outbreak of COVID-19, which prompted the deregulation of telemedicine.

The current system of telemedicine in Japan

The current revision of medical fees announced by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan defines the following categories for medical treatment using information and communication devices.

  • Online medical treatment
    Telemedicine refers to the act of examining and diagnosing patients through information and telecommunications equipment, and transmitting the results of diagnosis and prescriptions in real time.

  • Online medical examination & recommendation
    Telemedicine refers to the act of examining a patient through information and telecommunications equipment and recommending that the patient visit a medical institution in real time. It is prohibited to communicate a treatment policy by naming specific diseases, to give specific instructions on the use of drugs, or to prescribe such drugs.

  • Remote health medical consultation
    Telemedicine refers to the act of exchanging information obtained through the use of information and communication devices to provide necessary medical advice based on the individual patient’s mental and physical condition. It does not involve specific decisions such as diagnosis based on the individual condition of the consultant.

Of these, in online medical treatment;

  • In principle, it should be done by a family physician
  • In principle, the first medical examination must be face-to-face
  • The patient must have been treated face-to-face by the same physician for at least the last 3 months

In addition, if a physician determines that a patient’s symptoms are not suitable for an initial telemedicine, a face-to-face treatment is required, so it is not possible to complete medical treatment and prescriptions online in all cases.

Telemedicine service platform in Japan

From a business perspective, there is still no absolute winner in the Japanese telemedicine market, with many online medical service providers operating in disarray.

Services that are expected to gain significant market share include HOPE LifeMark-SX Cloud (a solution for clinics) provided by Fujitsu, a leading IT service provider, and LINE Doctor, a service offered by LINE, the largest messaging application in Japan.

Especially for the latter, LINE is likely to make a big leap, since its messaging application is used by the majority of Japanese people regardless of age.

Reference Links for telemedicine in Japan

MHLW of Japan, Outline of FY 2020 Revision of Medical Fee (in Japanese)

HOPE LifeMark-SX Cloud – Fujitsu (in Japanese)

LINE Doctor (in Japanese)

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