Personal Healthcare IT

An Expert's View about Human Health Services in Japan

Last updated: 31 Aug 2011


IT spending in all industry sectors, including the healthcare IT sector, is expected to grow in Japan in 2012 despite a short-term downturn following the earthquake and tsunami disasters of March 11, 2011, according to the research firm IDC Japan. In February 2010, a significant change in Japanese Government policy took place when the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare announced that medical institutions could now store medical information in Japanese data centers outside the immediate medical institution. With this change, companies may now provide Japanese medical institutions with IT services via remotely located IT networks.

In the aftermath of the March 11 disasters, the Japanese Government’s IT Strategic Headquarters’ Healthcare IT task force released a report in May 2011 which includes an appendix discussing the significance of healthcare IT to disaster response. The report highlights the importance of the Japanese Government’s “My Hospital Everywhere” and “Seamless Regional Medical Cooperation” programs which are viewed as supporting efforts to more safely store and protect medical information in the event of future natural and man-made disasters. The increasing popularity of smartphones and tablet devices in the Japanese market should also provide an impetus towards increased utilization of IT in the Japanese healthcare sector.

Market Demand

In light of the March 11 disasters in Japan, many medical facilities are paying increased attention to the need to both safely store patient information and effectively share such information between medical institutions. According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW), there were 380 hospitals in the quake/tsunami-affected prefectures (namely Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima) of which 11 were destroyed and 289 partially destroyed. As for general clinics, 81 of a total 3,972 were completely destroyed and 402 were partially destroyed (See Table 1).

The Japanese Government’s IT Strategic Headquarters (ITSH) healthcare IT task force released a report in May 2011 whose appendix addresses the topic of healthcare IT in relation to the March 11 disasters as well as implementation of the Japanese Government’s “My Hospital Everywhere” and “Seamless Regional Medical Cooperation” programs. The “My Hospital Everywhere” program aims to establish healthcare systems that allow individuals access to their own health records and control them electronically. The “Seamless Cooperation” program aims to improve the quality of medical and home healthcare services across regional jurisdictions by establishing both person-to-person and institution-to-institution information networks. The ITSH report noted above was drafted prior to the March 11 disasters and was originally scheduled to be released by the end of March 2011 but, in the aftermath of the disasters, the task force added an appendix to the report which reaffirms the importance of disaster preparedness by medical institutions. In this report, the task force notes that mobile phones and IC cards are superior to conventional systems in terms of portability as well as in terms of usability and sustainability in the case of disaster.

In February 2010, MHLW announced a significant change in policy allowing for the first time medical information to be stored in Japanese data centers located outside the immediate medical facility. Industry sources expect this will help accelerate the use of cloud computing, Software as a Service (SaaS) and Application Service Provider (ASP) type services in the Japanese healthcare sector. For example, GE Healthcare Japan and Softbank Telecom agreed to jointly start data hosting services for medical images via cloud computing in March 2011. Fujitsu, a leading Japanese IT company that also has a large market share in the electronic health record business, has started to provide hospitals with network services that allow sharing of medical information between medical institutions. The number of hospitals and clinics who have adopted electronic medical record systems is increasing as indicated by estimates from Japan’s leading industry association, the Japanese Association of Healthcare Information Systems Industry or JAHIS in Graphs 1 and 2, thus meaning more opportunities for cloud services in healthcare are expected in the future. Seed Planning, a research firm, predicts that cloud computing services for the healthcare sector in Japan will grow significantly from USD1.4 billion in 2015 to USD2.4 billion by 2020, increasing greatly from a market size of less than USD100 million in 2011. Seed Planning forecasts that cloud-type storage of electronic health records as well as cloud-type control of medical imaging have great potential in the future.

In Japan, cloud computing services are gaining greater acceptance and many companies have started offering such services in the past couple years. According to Yano Research, the cloud services market in Japan has been growing since 2010 and is expected to increase to USD9.2 billion by 2015. As shown in Graph 3 below, the cloud computing market size, including that for SaaS and ASP, is expected to increase by 20-30 percent per year from 2011 to 2015; however, this estimate may be revised upward as emphasis on risk management increases in the wake of the March 11 disasters.

As the popularity of smartphones has been increasing rapidly (see Graph 4), more healthcare IT-related applications for smartphones are also being sought. The increased popularity of tablet devices is also expected to translate to the healthcare sector as more applications become available. Nikkei newspaper reports that Yamada Denki, a large Japanese electronics retailer, is developing tablet device software for home healthcare and Microsoft Japan is also developing software to support house calls by doctors. 

Read the full market research report

Posted: 31 August 2011, last updated 31 August 2011

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