Japan wants to use 2020 Olympics as a Medical Tourism Opportunity

The health ministry is set to conduct the first large-scale survey on the nation’s medical infrastructure for foreign patients as part of efforts to improve services ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, ministry sources said.

Targeting some 4,000 hospitals and other medical facilities, the survey will assess records regarding foreigners’ past medical treatment.

Foreign tourism soared to a record 19.74 million in 2015, causing medical demand to climb.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Saturday it is hoping to use the results of the survey not only to improve medical services for foreign tourists and residents, but also to boost medical tourism.

The survey will cover institutions in about 300 municipal and prefectural governments, including those that accept emergency patients, said the ministry, which is planning to compile the results by the end of the year.

In addition to the number of foreign patients accepted at each facility, the survey will determine the number of tourists and foreign residents, the ratio of those who can speak Japanese, as well as the availability of interpreters and coordinators to guide them through the process, the sources said.

The survey will ask municipalities and prefectures about measures they are taking to promote the acceptance of foreign patients, as well as challenges faced in improving services.

The ministry said foreign visitors have complained there are only a few hospitals where they can communicate properly with staff, while staff have raised concerns about the difficulties in appropriately diagnosing or treating patients when hobbled by the language barrier.

However, it is not easy to secure medical interpreters and other personnel due to restraints on budgets and human resources.

In April 2014, the ministry launched a project that subsidizes costs related to interpreters and the translation of medical records and letters of consent.

Local governments have also started to train interpreters, the ministry said.

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