Multilingual telehealth services target foreigners in Japan

Mar 13, 2021 – 12:40 By Su Xincheng, KYODO NEWS

Photo shows how to use the Online Home Doctor services launched by Joes Corp. in Tokyo. (Photo courtesy of Joes Corp.)(Kyodo)  

TOKYO – When working as a physician at a hospital in Tokyo, Tatsunori Jo often felt it was difficult for foreigners to receive the same level of medical services as Japanese people due to language barriers.

Jo, who was born in Japan and grew up in Taiwan, set up Joes Corp. in Tokyo four years ago as a company specializing in medical care and living support for foreigners in Japan.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted Jo, who learned medicine in Taiwan and Japan, to start online medical consultations and examinations in multiple languages.

The company launched its Online Home Doctor services in English, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese for individuals in January and expanded them this month to cover company employees and foreign trainees brought to Japan under the government-sponsored technical internship program.

Using the company’s service, foreign residents can consult over 10 doctors, who cover internal and respiratory medicine, otolaryngology, pediatrics and dermatology, in the four languages via the Zoom videoconferencing application.

If a medical examination is required, it can be conducted and paid for by credit card online, with medication directly delivered to the person’s home.

There is no charge currently for medical consultations of up to 10 minutes as the company aims to help people amid the coronavirus pandemic. An examination of up to 15 minutes that includes a prescription costs 1,000 yen ($9) including tax but not the cost of a medication and its delivery.

Jo said he thinks the internationalization of medical care in Japan has been improving ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to be held this summer after being delayed by a year due to the pandemic.

But the doctor said developments have not kept up with increasing demand and he had been wondering how to provide better services to more foreigners in Japan.

The number of foreigners living in Japan topped 2.95 million last June, according to data compiled by the Immigration Services Agency.

Jo said he aims to reach out to more foreigners in Japan via the internet and social media.

“I have medical experience in Taiwan and Japan, and understand both cultures. I want to contribute my strengths to people in need,” said Jo, who speaks Chinese, Japanese and English.

He added he hopes to help people who hesitate to consult a doctor as they cannot explain their conditions properly due to language barriers and assist those concerned about visiting clinics due to the fear of coronavirus infection.

The number of users of the services had exceeded 3,000 as of mid-February, according to the company.

In Japan, telemedicine was permitted in 1997 for patients on remote islands and in rural areas. It became available across the country in 2018 but was limited to patients with certain chronic conditions who had already received prescriptions for medication.

As a temporary step to cope with the spread of coronavirus infections, the government allowed telehealth services for new patients in April last year and is considering making the measure permanent.

While some other telehealth services stress the convenience of seeing doctors online, the company said its services are aimed at helping a doctor to better understand a patient’s condition and increasing interaction between them.

Cr.KYODO NEWS