Student Voices: Healthcare in Japan

One of the biggest issues in Japanese hospitals is the “wait.”  With Japanese society aging rapidly, an increasing number of patients are going to hospitals to get checked up or ask questions about certain concerns that they have. Patients do not have financial worries about going to the hospital because the government takes care of the elderly no matter how many times they go. However, there are not enough doctors in Japan. This system creates long lines at local hospitals, especially those in populated suburban or urban areas. Regardless of the severity of symptoms, Japanese hospitals constantly have people of different kinds of problems, even with those without any problems at all, waiting in the lounge areas. Since many are old, they do not have the energy to wait or go to another hospital to look for a shorter line.

By incorporating ICT into the field of medicine, these lines can become nonexistent—patients who need more care can be prioritized, they can be distributed evenly to physicians so that even with a low number of physicians, and patients can be cared for in an efficient system.

First, ICT will allow an interconnected environment for physicians. Even with a low number of physicians, if the physicians are able to share information, technology, and ideas, it will provide the framework for more patients to be treated. If it becomes possible to remove the conception that one doctor knows more than another, then patients will lose the desire to go to the same doctor every time. Thus, patients would be able to go to the least crowded hospital without having to worry about a decrease in quality of care.

ICT provides an interconnected environment for patients and physicians. For patients with certain concerns, it will allow them to talk to other patients that had the same concerns in a forum format. If talking to others does not help, ICT will also allow patients to talk to physicians without having to wait in line and from the comfort of their home. New technologies such as video calling through the Internet would allow physicians to look at certain symptoms without having the patients come to the hospital to wait in line.

Most importantly for patients, the implementation of ICT will provide for a system of Electronic Health Records (EHR), allowing patients to keep their own health record and take it to any hospital, creating an easier connection for patients to access any hospital they want. This will also eliminate the hassle of having to fill out forms that everyone fills when going to a new hospital, which is another reason elderly patients do not want to go into other hospitals. ICT will connect patients, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and ambulance/emergency teams. There are many cases where widowed elderly patients collapse in their homes without another person to look out for them. When they finally find a way to call an ambulance, the ambulance struggles to find an open hospital and in the end takes too much time to get the patient treated causing a loss of life.

By connecting the patients’ status to physicians through ICT, physicians can be quickly notified if a patient is in a physical condition that they cannot call an ambulance themselves and can get an ambulance for them. By connecting hospitals and ambulances with ICT, ambulances will know which hospital has space available and which do not so they can reduce transport time for patients.

Elderly patients must also take a significant amount of medications. This issue comes from the business model many pharmaceutical companies have where they prescribe a drug that helps one symptom but cause certain side effects. These side effects are then controlled with additional drugs. This allows pharmaceutical companies to sell more medication and by contracting with physicians, allows them to efficiently sell their products. Using ICT, the patients will be informed of the medicine they are taking as well as the reasons they are taking them and what other similar medications there are in the market. Knowledge such as this will allow elderly patients to take medicine with fewer side effects and in as a result, less medicine to ease the burden of over dosing drugs in their body. This will also change the pharmaceutical companies’ business strategy to make more effective and more efficient medicine with fewer side effects so that patients take fewer drugs.

To develop such an ICT environment the biggest obstacle would be the consent of the physicians, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies. Physicians must agree upon certain treatment options over others so that patients will be assured that no matter where they would go they would be treated the same way. This will make the competition between physicians of skill and technique harder and therefore elite physicians will have to compete in different ways. Hospitals must agree to share technology so that patients would have access to the newest technology no matter what hospital they are taken to. Hospitals will lose their edge over of hospitals and will complete lose their current business aspect.

Finally pharmaceutical companies must completely change their business model and style to changing their focus from convincing doctors to prescribing their product to convincing patients that their product will help them the most.