How the Medical Industry is Improving Life for Japan’s Aging Population

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Medical Science In Japan

Everyone in Japan knows its citizenry is getting older at a faster rate than that of any other nation. But for outsiders, the most striking insight may be that the Japanese want to face aging well. In fact, by government edict, the goal is to direct policy, health care, and even citizens themselves toward longer, healthier, more enriching lives.

The resulting lessons will be critical to life science companies worldwide as the aging trend prevalent in Japan expands to other nations. These companies are using Japan to deepen their understanding of the business opportunities in health care, medical equipment, and related services resulting from the innate human desire for happiness at any age.

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Japan already enjoys the world’s second-biggest market in medical devices. For example, the nation leads the world in MRI machines per capita. By country, Japan had 9.1 percent of the 2014 global medical device market—behind the U.S. and ahead of Germany. Meanwhile, Japan’s market is expected to continue to grow as the nation’s population continues to age and need medical equipment.

Philips, the Dutch electronics and health care corporation, is among the foreign companies attracted to Japan’s market. Philips is teaming with Japanese doctors to join a “hospital to home” solution that emphasizes getting people out of expensive care facilities and back home, where they want to be.

Philips’s range of ventilation, sleep therapy, and monitoring equipment is an ideal part of such a plan, as Danny Risberg, general manager of Philips Healthcare in Japan, disclosed in a recent presentation. Risberg pointed out that Japan’s average hospital stay is three times longer than the average in the U.S. or the Netherlands, so “in-hospital treatment is not sustainable.”

Philips also is part of the trend toward corporate-university collaboration, with relationships with the universities of Nagasaki, Kobe, and Showa. One project is a remote intensive-care patient management program.

The hospital-to-home movement exemplifies Japanese government programs to help its aging populace. This also includes innovative systems for patient-requested care, promotion of self-medication, cloud-based record availability, and remote monitoring of patients in their homes. Japan also promotes new markets for accessible technologies and devices that patients can use to treat themselves without expensive facilities or expert assistance. It’s all part of a health care and medical strategy adopted in 2014 by the government—a policy initiative based on the concept that Japanese society will benefit from advances in both health care and the economic growth needed to support it. The issue is complex, and Japanese and non-Japanese companies are rising to the challenge.

Robotics: Japan realizes it will be short hundreds of thousands of people needed to provide traditional health care as its populace ages and declines in numbers. Part of the solution is to promote women’s participation in the workplace and increase the use of foreign workers—a classic way to fill health care jobs. But “carebots” and other robotic helpers also are being developed, not only for aging patients but also for caregivers themselves. Studies show that as many as 70 percent of health care workers in Japan suffer from back problems because they so often lift or support patients. Robotic aids being developed by companies such as Cyberdyne and Panasonic involve exoskeletons to help caregivers handle patients without strain.

Treatment: The increasing medical needs of an aging populace are creating interest among more and more companies. IBA, a Belgian firm, recently took advantage of Japanese government support to open a subsidiary in Tokyo to promote its radiation therapy systems. And Medtronic, the medical device company, recently earned Japanese regulatory approval for a miniaturized pacemaker. Other companies realize that Japan’s medical devices will need repair and replacement over time, creating another market opportunity. Non-Japanese companies involved in or expanding into the medical device market in Japan include Karl Storz and Siemens of Germany, plus Thermo Fisher Scientific and Intuitive Surgical from the United States. These and other trends are combining with specific law changes that speed regulatory approval in Japan.

Conditional early approval expanded to cover innovative medical devices in July 2017. Now, the Japanese National Diet, Japan’s bicameral legislature, is considering more benefits for the pharmaceutical and medical device industries that match those given to the booming regenerative medicine fields, according to Colin Lee Novick, managing director of the CJ Partners biotech consulting firm in Tokyo. If the Diet acts, Novick adds, “I would say that the red carpet has been rolled out across the board” in life sciences for all of Japan.

 

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