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Japan's technology leads the way in caring for the elderly

Japan's technology leads the way in caring for the elderly
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During the last sixty years across the globe, the number of people living longer over the age of sixty-five has doubled, from 5% to 9% and Japan has been one of the front runners.

The acceleration of aging is more remarkable in Japan than elsewhere: more than a quarter of the population is 65 or older.

People are living longer and above all, living better. In Japan the newest technologies have inspired public and private sectors in the fields of health policies and innovation, to provide older people a better quality of life.

Japan's digital care system

An aging society is a serious challenge for healthcare systems. Solutions delivered by Japan were at the core of an international summit in Tokyo, which gathered worldwide medical experts, public officials, start-ups and foreign delegations.

A digital care system has been the centrepiece of the Japanese strategy. It has been merging medical data and technology.

Erwin Böttinger, Head of Digital Health Centre, Hasso Plattner Institute, Potsdam, Germany is one of the main world experts in digital health innovation and said, "I am totally impressed by what is happening in Japan, here."

"The benefits of digitisation, the benefits of Artificial Intelligence for our citizens and our societies will be greatest in the way of improved healthcare, and improved health in the distant future: that this requires that we have a good relationship with our own data."

How it works

Japan is establishing a new regulation to allow public and private sectors to use anonymously processed medical data.

To see how this digital transition has been implemented Euronews went to the University Hospital in Kyoto.

The collection of records begins from the patient's bedroom. Nurses pass on information straight to the servers, such as blood pressure, heartbeat, body temperature, clinical tests, and treatments.

Processing this cluster of data allows medical care to be more precise and more efficient. It also provides insights on how the healthcare system is managing and what's driving medicine production.

Tomohiro Kuroda CIO and Professor, Kyoto University Hospital said, "We collect data to understand what is happening in this country and what kind of medical treatment we provide to people."

"By using this data, we can see the different treatment and care. We make this data anonymous, and the government prepares a system to share it with everyone. Then, through this system, the private sector can use the data in order to create new drugs and treatments," Kuroda added.

Japanese healthcare insurance relies on billions of data, from more than 126 million citizens. It's a unique set of data that could be a source of opportunities even outside of the country.

Genta Kato, Chief Content, Kyoto University Hospital Solution Centre for Health Insurance Claims said, "More than 95% of the Japanese population's care content is covered by data elaboration. There is a 'trend' to using both medical treatment and nursing care data as a whole package for digital healthcare."

"Japan is a super-ageing society, and I think that our knowledge in this process could be a reference for many other countries in the world," added Kato.

Digital care has generated business opportunities

Japan has the world's second-largest healthcare market. The digital care innovation process has generated important business opportunities for Japanese private medical companies. For example, Sompo's Future Care Lab project is developing cutting-edge technologies to address the needs of the ageing society.

Products such as an Artifical Intelligence wheelchair, which is able to move autonomously on a pre-selected path; a convertible bed; and body sensors for bath and bed can all help elderly people live more independently.

Shinichiro Kataoka, Chief of Future Care Lab, Sompo Holdings Inc said, "Japan is a super-ageing society, and by using technology we can reduce the burden of care workers and also improve the productivity of their work."

"For example, to reduce the tasks of the caregiver, one of the solutions is the assisted bed. It reduces the burden and reduces the number of carers for one person," said Kataoka.

Virtual Reality plays a key role

Beyond the high tech solutions, the human factor is still important. The interaction between the patient and the carer can facilitate good health.

This is the case with a Virtual Reality headset, developed by Silver Wood Corp. By simulating what it's like to have dementia, it helps provide an understanding of the effects of the disease and help in their treatment.

Tadamichi Shimogawara, President, Silverwood Co. Ltd said, "We do not want caregivers and patients to be divided, we would like to create a responsible relationship in which both need each other."

"This is a way that exactly reproduces the world as it is perceived by patients with dementia. We can experience it through Virtual Reality, which then makes us understand the pain and the difficulties of these people. So, this technology allows us to feel all that," explained Shimogawara.

A caregiver working in a care house in Tokyo appreciated the educational value of the VR device and said: "I felt I have learnt much more about dementia than I would do through reading textbooks."

Global business opportunities

The high quality Japanese medical data could now trigger international business opportunities.

This combined approach to promote the use of data and the use of cutting-edge technologies in order to develop the next generation health care system makes Japan open to innovative ecosystems. It may have triggered international cooperation and businesses, inspired by the huge amount of high-quality medical data being held by Japan.

"The success of these approaches in Japan will be infectious and will motivate citizens to embrace the concept, so that throughout Europe, throughout the developed world and the developing world, we will have a unified approach: going forward to digital health," said Böttinger.

International collaboration will be key to maximize the potential of digital health innovation and prepare a future society with a 100-year life expectancy.

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