LINE Healthcare, Future of the Healthcare Industry in Japan?


LINE Healthcare, Future of the Healthcare Industry in Japan?

What is HealthTech? 

Health tech is the combination of medicine and technology to create something different

HealthTech is commonly defined as a combination of medicine and technology and has recently been attracting a lot of attention from the latest technology, X-Tech. X-Tech refers to the use of technology to create innovative services for existing businesses, such as FinTech, which has had a huge impact on the traditional financial industry. This trend will undoubtedly have a major impact on the future of other businesses. 

One of the companies that has attracted the most attention in Japan in the year 2020, was LINE Healthcare, a company that provides remote online health consultations with doctors using the app LINE. 

"I thought it would be difficult to make people aware of the concept of health consultations, which were not very common, but I've seen a big increase in both awareness and usage compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.” Says Shodai Tsunoyama, head of the company's business planning committee. 

We asked him about the current state of the company's services and the future of health tech.

Rapid Growth of the Healthcare Industry in 2020: 

Why is HealthTech in the spotlight today? Firstly, the Next Generation Medical Infrastructure Act (Act on Anonymised Processed Medical Information for Research and Development in the Medical Field) came into force on 11 May 2018. This paves the way for the use of so-called medical big data for research and development. In other words, the infrastructure for the widespread use of health tech has been in place since 2018, albeit gradually.

Secondly, in February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. In March, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) commissioned companies to provide support for remote health and medical consultations, in response to fears that the virus could spread to medical institutions and healthcare professionals.

One of the companies selected to provide online health consultations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the general public via the LINE app was LINE Healthcare. On June 26, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) decided to extend the duration of this project, and the online health consultation services provided by LINE HEALTHCARE were offered free of charge until August 31, 2020. 

What is LINE Healthcare? 

LINE Healthcare launches LINE doctor in greater Tokyo

Established in January 2019, LINE Healthcare is an online health consultation service that allows users to consult with a doctor 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The service is available in internal medicine, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, orthopaedics, dermatology and otorhinolaryngology. 

There are two ways to use the service: 'consult now', which allows you to consult a doctor for 30 minutes via chat, or 'get an answer later', which allows you to receive an answer via text. Tsunoyama explains how the service works: "Similar to communicating with your friends and family on LINE, you can talk to your doctor about your health concerns or chronic illnesses, and get answers to your questions in a one-to-one chat.”

As of July 3, 2020, the official LINE Healthcare account has more than 5.7 million users, and due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an exponential increase in the number of consultations as compared to before the pandemic. In addition, there are approximately 2,000 registered doctors and more than 500 doctors who have been screened for the service, and the system for providing the service is beginning to be strengthened to meet the growing demand from users.

In February, a few months after the launch, the number of consultations itself increased 40 times compared to the previous month. Tsunoyama says the company has had a vision since it was founded in January 2019: "In the future, we want to provide a one-stop service from health management, consultation and medical treatment to medication, with online medical treatment at its core” 

"Initially, we thought it would take two years at the earliest, and up to six years or more before we could formally enter the online medical market due to legal restrictions. The online health consultation service is actually the first product we've launched to get there," says Tsunoyama.

This is because, although Japan revised the reimbursement for online medical treatment in 2018, there were many restrictions, such as the principle of face-to-face consultation for the first visit, so it was thought that it would take time for online medical treatment to spread. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rules have been relaxed, and in April 2020, online medical treatment was allowed for a limited time, even for initial consultations. The unanticipated impact of the new coronavirus has accelerated the spread of online healthcare in Japan.

"Many doctors have joined this service because they agree with the idea of online health consultations, and we will continue to provide online health consultations to meet the needs of users who do not want to go to the hospital for consultations, as well as the triage needs of hospitals in the era of COVID-19. At the same time, we will continue to improve our online medical services.

According to Tsunoyama, the company is in the process of preparing for the launch of its online medical service, which he hopes will be much sooner than originally planned. In response to doctors' requests for immediate online medical services, the company is providing medical institutions with guidelines for using the existing LINE app to provide online medical services via video calls.

Towards an integrated online and offline medical service: 

How much of an impact will the company's services have on our daily lives? The first thing to look at is the company that underpins its services.

"The company is a joint venture between LINE Corporation, which has an app with 84 million users, and M3 Corporation, which operates a medical portal site with 280,000 members, or more than 90% of all doctors in Japan. This is the basic premise of the project.

Both companies have a large base of users, and the latter has a range of solutions, such as AI diagnostic imaging and electronic medical records, thus has a lot of potential for utilizing these assets. “We're focusing on online health consultations and online medical treatment as the next step, but that's not all we want to do," says Tsunoyama.

"Even if online medical treatment becomes widespread, it doesn't make much sense in terms of time if you have to go to a pharmacy to get a prescription or medicine. What we want to achieve in the future is that, in addition to medical advice and treatment, pharmacists will be able to prescribe and advise on medication, deliver medicines to the patient's home, manage the medication in a medication booklet, and further provide daily health management and daily care after the disease has been cured. We want to provide services that combine the customer journey as the patient with the strengths of the online world of medicine” elaborates Tsunoyama. 

This will involve further collaboration with all kinds of companies across industries, from pharmaceuticals to logistics.

A variety of medicines including Loseprazol 20mg

By working with offline hospitals and pharmacies, and involving a wider range of industries where efficiency can be achieved, we will be able to provide services that are more convenient for our users.

"It's difficult to simply replace everything online, and we don't want to do that. In other words, we want to create a future where people can choose online care as a new and alternative option that is integrated with, rather than opposed to, existing face-to-face medical care” says Tsunoyama. 

In such a future, people will be able to connect with doctors and hospitals anywhere and any time, using the same apps they use every day. The health tech services of the future will not only help families with small children but may also fundamentally solve many of Japan's healthcare problems, including an ageing population, healthcare disparities and a shortage of doctors.

If you're a busy business person during the day, why not try an online clinic? We are soon nearing a world where this will be seen as the new normal. 

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