Japan growing as a potential medical tourism destination

Published on : Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Health-Japan-medical-Asia-212183Japan is developing into a  medical tourism destination since 2011 where the country had attracted more than 22,000 guests and the number grew to 27,000 in the following year. Though the recent numbers have not yet been revealed but the Ministry of Economy, Travel and Industry data reveal that Chinese are among the highest visitors who come to Japan to look for medical aid.



Boosted by the weak yen and relaxed visa conditions, the number of foreigners visiting Japan has been increasing and the total for 2015 is expected to reach 20 million. Among this number are more people seeking the advanced medical treatment and rigorous medical examinations available in Japan.



Unfortunately in Japan, medical tourism figures are poor. The latest available from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry are rough estimates only of 27,000 in 2012 and 22,000 from 2011.



Tourism agency JTB says that while actual numbers are not available it is reasonable to assume that the number of medical tourists in Japan is increasing in tandem with the overall increase in international visitors. That number has more than doubled over the past three years. Assuming that medical tourists have increased at the same rate, the current number would be on the order of 50,000 to 60,000.



The Japanese government has always been cautious about promoting medical tourism. There is a medical visa that allows foreigners to stay in Japan for up to six months for medical treatment. A health ministry website and call centre deals with enquiries from overseas about medical treatment in Japan. The current government is revising the policy of the previous administration, which prioritized acceptance of international patients. Rather than focusing on medical tourism, the current policy emphasizes international expansion of Japan’s medical technology and services. Specific targets include establishing Japanese medical institutions in 10 locations internationally by 2020, mainly in developing countries. The aim in actively exporting Japanese medical services with government backing is to stimulate the growth of related industries including medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and information systems such as remote diagnostics.



Language and cultural barriers and the need for balance with the national healthcare insurance system mean many healthcare institutions in Japan are cautious about internationalization. The Japan Medical Association has consistently opposed the push for medical tourism, citing problems with respect to the general principle that healthcare should not be for profit, and the prohibition of mixed medical care billing in the Japanese healthcare system.



The minority of hospitals and clinics actively welcoming international patients see potential demand from Asian countries. Tourism agency JTB has a subsidiary promoting inbound medical tourism and says that 90% of these customers come from China and the remaining 10% from Russia.



Hospitals actively seeking medical tourists from China include Kameda Medical Centre in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture, and the Cancer Institute Hospital of the Japanese Foundation For Cancer Research, Nippon Medical School Imaging Centre for Healthcare, and St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo.



Kameda Medical Centre had only 50 patients from China in 2014, but 160 in 2015. In addition to complete medical examinations, people mostly seek breast cancer examinations and treatment. The hospital says that 80% of visitors from China complete a questionnaire, and that among respondents “the level of satisfaction with the medical services, how they are treated by hospital employees, and the tests included in the examinations is 100%. The level of satisfaction with the hospital accommodation and meals is 90%.”



JTB sees huge potential in Japan for tapping into the increasing demand from wealthy Chinese seeking medical care in Japan. Travel agency JTB and medical assistance service provider Emergency Assistance Japan both offer support for visits to Japan with interpreters, transportation and accommodation. JTB has just set up its first Chinese office in Beijing to target wealthy Chinese medical tourists.



The government has set up Medical Excellence Japan, part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, to accredit hospitals targeting medical tourists. By October 2015 eleven hospitals had been accredited. It also offers accreditation to agencies that have dealt with at least 150 medical tourists in the last years; both JTB and Emergency Assistance Japan are the only two certified as medical tourism support companies.

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