Japanese Ministry, METI, launches free remote health consultation service to address COVID-19 related concerns

The service provided is a remote health consultation service, which means that doctors should advise patients according to their conditions and symptoms, not diagnosing or prescribing medicines.
By Dean Koh
02:00 AM

Above image: A screengrab of Mediplat's first call remote health consult service. Credit: MedPeer

The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced on 11 March that it has launched a free remote health consultation service with doctors in response to growing public health concerns caused by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The free consultation service is being provided from March 11 to 31 and the service is being run by companies, Mediplat, a consolidated subsidiary of MedPeer, and LINE Healthcare, a joint venture between LINE and M3.

This measure is one of the emergency response measures for new coronavirus infectious diseases compiled on March 10, in response to the "Basic Policy for Countermeasures against New-type Coronavirus Infections," which was issued on February 25 by the Task Force on New Coronavirus Infectious Diseases headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The service provided is a remote health consultation service, which means that doctors should advise patients according to their conditions and symptoms, not diagnosing or prescribing medicines. METI has launched this project in the use of remote health consultation can be an effective way of triaging potential cases and also serve as a form of first line of defense, while keeping frontline healthcare staff safe unless there is an urgent need for immediate medical attention/treatment.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Mediplat is a subsidiary of MedPeer, which has a community of more than 120,000 doctor members. The Mediplat has opened up its "first call" service, a medical consultation service in a chat format with a doctor that is free of charge. The free consultation is available 24 hours a day, including Saturdays and Sundays. Patients can consult with a doctor anonymously in chat format, and doctors who are proficient in 12 types of specialty care, including general internal medicine and pediatrics, will respond. The patients also can attach images when they want to show the visible symptoms.

LINE Healthcare is a joint venture between LINE and M3, is providing online health consultations are available through the "LINE" app, which has more than 83 million users in Japan. The departments that will be able to provide free consultations are internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, orthopedics, dermatology and otorhinolaryngology. In cooperation with M3, Inc., which has a database of more than 270,000 doctors, the company plans to actively expand the number of doctors who can provide online health consultation service up to approximately 1,000. 

The free consultation service is available 24 hours a day, including Saturdays and Sundays. Patients can choose from 2 types of consultations: “Consult Now,” which allows for consultation with a doctor in a chat format, and “Answer Later”, which allows a patient to communicate with a doctor in detail by text message. 

Both companies are ready to handle up to 5,000 consultations a day during the period from March 11 to 31.

THE LARGER TREND

According to a report by The Japan Times in September 2018, both remote health medical consultation and telemedicine services that connect doctors and patients via smartphones and other devices are spreading across Japan, Under deregulation in April 2018, public health insurance can now be used for telemedicine and with this deregulation, healthcare startups are expected to further accelerate the development of remote health care services.

In the wake the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in most parts of the world, the use of remote health consultation can be an effective way of triaging potential cases and also can serve as a form of first line of defense, while keeping frontline healthcare staff safe unless there is an urgent need for immediate medical attention/treatment. In the case of Japan, the experience of COVID-19 could be an opportunity for remote health consultation to enter into the mainstream.

Elsewhere in other parts of the world, telemedicine is being adopted on a broad scale to combat the rising COVID-19 situation. For instance, from 13 March, a new update implemented by the Australian Federal Government will allow doctors, nurses and mental health practitioners to provide telehealth services, such as video conferencing to people isolated at home due to the coronavirus, Healthcare IT News reported.

In the US, Congress has included a provision that waives some restrictions for Medicare telehealth coverage as part of its new COVID-19 supplemental funding package. According to a Mobi Health News report, the NHS in the UK has launched a new NHS 111 online tool to help those wanting to get quick advice about the new coronavirus after it saw a surge in the number of queries received about the outbreak.

ON THE RECORD

"Thanks to the cooperation of two companies that can quickly expand access from consumers and doctors, we could launch this project with an emphasis on speed. Taking this opportunity, I hope that remote health consultation services, including those provided by other companies, will be trusted and utilized by as many people as possible," said Kazumi Nishikawa, Director, Healthcare Industries Division of METI in a statement. 

The author would like to thank Yuuri Ueda, MD, Healthtech Promoter, Siemprey Inc. for her contribution to the story.

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Above image: A nurse at the monitoring center in Seoul is checking the status of a patient staying at the Life Treatment Center in Mungyeong through a video call.

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