As Japan encourages Chinese medical tourists, the government warns hospitals against assisting Japanese patients to get transplants in China.
The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) is looking to boost the number of medical tourists coming from China. The JTA hopes to boost the number of medical tourists to Japan to 100 a year. The agency set up a study panel on medical tourism targeting China's wealthy class last year and has been looking into ways to secure interpreters and responses to medical accidents. The agency is also planning to conduct a survey on Chinese tourists and medical institutions in Japan. They will ask what medical treatment they want, their preferred payment methods and what kind of tourism information they are interested in.
So far, 30 Chinese have joined medical tours to Japan organized by Nippon Travel Agency. The Tokyo-based company launched package tours in April last year, incorporating cancer-detecting PET (positron emission tomography) checks along with the usual sightseeing.
The Japanese government recently warned hospitals from assisting with transplant tourism to China after an investigation of over two hundred hospitals uncovered several doctors who had provided such assistance. The Japanese Society disallows transplant tourism to China for Transplantation because of China’s lack of transparency and use of prison inmates in obtaining organs.
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare conducted investigations of 247 hospitals in Japan, finding that doctors in five of the hospitals, including several in Tokyo, were found to have aided patients by providing their medical histories to agencies who could arrange organ transplants overseas for them. The Ministry of Health warned the hospitals not to assist in illegal organ trafficking, “Organ transplants that are not approved by the government are not only illegal but are organs for sale. Please contact the ministry if suspected agencies attempt to obtain or breach patient information.” The ministry warns medical personnel in large hospitals as well as small clinics not to assist with illegal, commercialized organ transplants and to handle patient information with caution.
The Japanese hospital system is in a state of crisis. There is not only a shortage of doctors and nurses, but also a growing shortage of beds as well, due to the poor financial condition of many hospitals. The Japanese public medical system currently allows for 5400 procedures, each of which is strictly regulated in terms of price and method in order to qualify for government reimbursement. The financial crisis for many hospitals has come about as the government continues to seek ways to cut its annual health spending.
JTA is cooperating with ten hospitals in Japan (mainly in Tokyo). The idea is to offer l treatment to Chinese medical tourists, concentrating on brain surgery, cosmetic surgery, and oncology. The JTA has admitted that it has a number of challenges, including language and payment methods. A survey will question Japanese medical institutions over whether they can provide care in foreign languages and how they will provide treatment information to their clients.
There are many problems with bringing Chinese patients into Japan, the least of which is the simple matter of getting cooperation from the immigration authorities that can take three months or more to issue visas, and require lots of detailed documentation. Other problems include
• Logistics --specialized transportation may be needed from the airport
• Language -- Chinese-Japanese interpreters are few and expensive
• Legal -- Informed consents for operations must be in Chinese
• Fees -- How much to charge?
• Payment methods -- Bank transfers?
• Culture – Getting Japanese hospitals tend to treat their patients as customers and not as people who do as the hospital orders them
• Amenities – Few Japanese hospitals have quality rooms for wealthy patients
• Post-operative follow-up -- Who will do this?
• Accompanying family -- Do they also get visas?