Information Technology in Health Care

e-Health for Japanese Health Services

As Japan faces rapid aging, a declining birthrate, widening income disparity, expanding fiscal debt, and remarkable hikes in health care costs, the sustainability of its health care system is at stake. Despite the need to allocate limited medical resources optimally, Japan lacks a common platform for sharing medical data, ideally over the Internet. The potential benefits of health information technology, or health IT, are not well known among patients, practitioners, or policymakers. Electronic patient records are not available from one hospital to another and are isolated from the Internet due to privacy concerns. Clinical practitioners have no remote access to patients’ information when away from a particular hospital or clinic. Unique medical data, stored individually in each hospital or clinic, is vulnerable to accidents and natural disasters. The Tohoku disaster demonstrated the absence of a reliable backup for health data, the challenge of data management during an emergency, and the dangers of prescribing drugs with insufficient access to medical records.

It is therefore critical to move toward an improved, Internet-ready health IT system. An e-health system presents an effective and efficient means to reduce costs and improve the quality of health care services. Moving forward on a discrete set of sensible policy and operational reforms is possible and timely, as the Tohoku disaster provides a mandate to change the way the Japanese health system operates.

Masanori Akiyama and Ryozo Nagai