Japan ranks lowest on Future Health Index, despite world class health care

Did you know that the Japanese have one of the highest life expectancies worldwide, yet according to the Future Health Index, they worry about having limited access to information and resources needed to live healthy lives?

Philips recently surveyed healthcare professionals and patients across 13 countries about their thoughts on the healthcare system. Specifically, they assessed the extent to which healthcare professionals and patients perceive that connected care technology is adopted, integrated, and accessible. Aside from Japan, the survey covered Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Surprisingly, Japan was ranked lowest on the Future Health Index, indicating a lack of readiness to adopt the technologies that will transform healthcare services in the coming years. There is a disconnect between the care delivered by Japanese healthcare professionals and the perceived access and knowledge to resources that patients feel they need to stay healthy. Only 18% of Japanese surveyed feel they have access to medical resources needed to take care of a sick family member or themselves in their homes. This response is far below the 43% overall average positive response for this question.

This might explain why many foreigners are taken aback at the lack of dialogue doctors have with their patients in Japan, a problem explained in part by the language barrier. “What surprised me most was the lack of open discussion between doctor and patient to find the right treatment based on their medical knowledge and my preferences as a patient,” said Erika Eriksson, a Swedish mother of two, referring to the challenges she had in communicating her concerns and medical needs to her doctor in Japan during her second pregnancy. However, she found that her post- natal care experience was more attentive than that of her first pregnancy experience in Germany.

Jim Fink, an American and Senior Managing Director of Colliers International in Japan agrees that medical care can come across as impersonal, although he is grateful for the affordable co-pay system. “Treatment is affordable and acceptable for simple ailments like the common cold compared to the US”, says Jim.

But with the average life expectancy in Japan at 84 years and one of the healthiest populations in the world, it is not surprising that there is some reluctance to change the fundamentals of how the Japanese healthcare system operates. And there are considerable costs associated with implementing connected care, after all. Moreover, there are privacy and legal liability concerns — who will decide the extent of access for patient records? When and how will disclosure be provided?

But what is a more integrated healthcare system anyway? It means that health practitioners are able to use technology to access medical records and communicate with patients remotely. Integrated care would help make the most of Japan’s co-pay system by providing a way to track disease trends and project ensuing costs.

Tomoko Todani, a Japanese national residing in The Hague, describes her positive experience with the healthcare system in Holland – “Everything is seamlessly connected through a citizen service number called BSN. Taxes, health insurance, child benefits and other services can be paid via the DigiD – electronic system. My son was injured playing rugby. He first went to a GP who checked him out then made a referral to a hospital. The doctors there made the treatment decision and my son was seen by a physiotherapist and a podiatrist to adjust his feet position. It was a very smooth process with amazing treatment and care. All patient information was shared in an e-file so that the doctors involved were able to easily communicate. I wish we had a more connected system like this in Japan”.

According to the Future Health Index, only 12% of medical professionals feel that connected technology is being used. Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Chairman of Health and Global Policy Institute echoes this sentiment about the need for improvements in Japan – “There is no flow in a patient’s care, no linking of data, no one gatekeeper collaborating whether a patient has already had a certain test or whether they need another one”.

Herman Ehrlich, Global hospitality executive who has spent many years in Japan as well as in many of the countries in the Global Health Index survey says “I was surprised to see that despite good doctors there is limited coordination between treating doctors. I do not mean that there is not any coordination, but it seems doctors don’t want to infringe on a colleague’s territory. Challenging the status quo will generate dialogue and progress for both doctors and patients”.

Anna Goshua, a Canadian student and Health Sciences major interning in Japan, says, “It seems that Canadian doctors are more willing than those in Japan to be critical of another’s diagnosis or treatment. It is this challenging attitude that creates an environment for ever improving healthcare and ultimately benefits the patient”.

As it stands, Japan is a world leader in technological innovation and is at the forefront of developing treatments for complex conditions, such as gastric cancers. David B. an American expat that has resided in Japan for more than 10 years, says, “My wife was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. It turns out that Japan is a leader in GI cancer treatments. She owes her life to the unparalleled care that she received at a Japanese hospital and the cost was a fraction of what it would have been in the United States.”

Japan is more than capable of providing world-class healthcare. By taking the results of the Future Health Index into account, Japan can invest in connected care infrastructure to ensure that healthcare professionals have the tools they need to provide cohesive, comprehensive treatment and that patients feel empowered and able to manage their health when they step out of the doctor’s office.