Healthcare Resilience through Japanese Tech
With its culture of fortitude in adversity, tested ability to bounce back from natural disasters, and a wealth of cutting-edge technologies, Japan is uniquely positioned to contribute to building greater resilience in the post-Covid world. From disruption-proof infrastructure, more sustainable and efficient processes, and health tech of the future, Japan’s companies and entrepreneurs have been innovating around the clock to Build Back Better. In the first of our series of three articles, we look at healthcare innovations from the country which can benefit the planet.
SPURRING HEALTH INNOVATIONS
The global pandemic has spurred innovation across all aspects of our lives. But nowhere is this more evident than in the way we try to protect physical health. Japan, renowned for its excellent universal health care and one of the longest life expectancies in the world, is no exception. In the past year, the country has been a wellspring of inventions to fight the pandemic and build greater resilience in healthcare infrastructure. New solutions in areas such as telemedicine, robotic surgery and IoT health devices are being launched by Japanese companies and facilitated by regulatory changes.
As a powerhouse of robotics, Japan is accelerating its unique healthcare innovations.
These developments will be a boon for the post-Covid world. The World Economic Forum points out that harnessing the power of digital technologies will be vital to achieve more efficient, accessible, and effective healthcare for all. Moreover, health tech will be a key driver of post-Covid growth. Demand for digital health solutions is urging, with some estimating the domain to become the next trillion-dollar global industry.
We consider two cases – AI-driven medical inquiry software and robots enabling remote surgery– which demonstrate Japan’s exciting new health innovations.
As the first wave of Covid-19 swept the country in April of last year, the share of healthcare providers providing telemedicine services have increased from 10 per cent to 15 per cent between April and October.
One of the game-changing healthcare apps to gain prominence last year was health-tech start up Ubie’s AI-medical interview assistance software. Using a proprietary algorithm, the software can conduct a preliminary interview of a patient who interfaces with the software via a tablet. The software asks questions regarding symptoms and medical background, automatically adjusting questions according to the patient’s answers; in a sense, mimicking how a doctor might conduct a medical interview. Based on responses from the patient it can suggest potential ailments to physicians, and also document patient answers as a clinical note to alleviate physicians from note writing.
“The efficacy of “Ubie for Hospital” is the result of bringing real-world data gathered from our institutional users across Japan, together with a proprietary medical knowledge database created by concocting the results of over 50,000 research papers”, says Yoshinori Abe , Ubie co-founder and MD.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, a smartphone version of “Ubie for Hospitals” was released to the public which helps individuals to choose a healthcare provider that can best treat their symptoms. A “Covid-triage” extension added to this app can also alert providers to Covid-19-like symptoms, enabling hospitals and clinics to prepare for the arrival of potential Covid patients ahead of time. As of February 2021, the app counts over 600,000 monthly active users. As a company committed to healthcare, privacy and security come first; secure networks and strict protocols provide personal data protection to both Ubie’s professional and lay users. Such patient information is then matched with the electronic clinical records held within the hospital network. Ubie’s software suite is estimated to cut administrative work by a third, amounting to saving some 1,000 hours of overtime for physicians.
THE RISE OF THE SURGICAL ROBOTS
Japan has a renowned reputation for robots. Indeed, Japan is a predominant supplier of the world’s industrial robots. Innovations in Japanese robot technologies have been increasingly expanding beyond the factory floor to services, agriculture, nursing care, schools and medical procedures. Last August, Japanese regulatory authorities approved the country’s first ever robotic-assisted surgery system – the “hinotori™ Surgical Robot System”.
Developed by Medicaroid Corporation, a joint venture between Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Sysmex, the system is equipped with four arms that attach to an endoscope and surgical instruments. A surgeon is able to control these robotic arms remotely while viewing high definition 3D video in an ergonomically-designed cockpit.
Hinotori, meaning “phoenix” and named after the title of a Japanese classic comic book, promises some key advantages over existing technologies. The system is compact, allowing easier movement in emergency situations and installation in existing surgical rooms, as well as cost-effective in terms of purchase and maintenance.
“With these benefits of size and cost, we hope to contribute to the expansion of robotic surgery globally,” says Medicaroid. “In the future, we hope to use the system to train young surgeons.”
Though the hinotori was initially designed for the treatment of prostate cancer and other urological diseases, Medicaroid, which is based in Kobe, plans to expand treatments. Working in partnership with researchers, doctors, and the public sector, the company hopes to make hinotori an ever “evolving robot”.
ON TRACK TOWARDS HEALTHY RECOVERY
From online medical consultations to robotic surgery systems and more, government commitment matched with entrepreneurial drive has accelerated health tech innovations in the country. Such tech solutions are not only helping Japan towards a healthy recovery but may help other countries better combat this current pandemic. In the long run, these and other Japanese technologies should contribute to making the post-Covid world a more resilient place.
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