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Medical Tourism

Medical tourism?in which people seek to utilize the medical services available in countries other than their own?has become notable of late. The motivation behind such medical tourism can be the lack of availability of advanced medical care in a person’s own country, or the need to keep the cost of treatment down.

Japan has long boasted extremely high standards in medical care, for example in cancer treatment and endoscopic examinations. The number of medical facilities available per million capita is also considerably higher than many other countries. Now, Japan is looking to maximize the potential of these outstanding medical resources by attracting greater levels of medical tourism.

An increase in the number of non-Japanese visiting Japan in order to undergo examinations and treatments at medical facilities located in Japan helps to stimulate the local economy; this has led to medical tourism being promoted as part of Japan’s national tourism policy.

For example, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is currently running the Medical Excellence JAPAN project, which comprises a customer service interface functioning to bring together Japanese medical facilities interested in accepting patients not resident in Japan with overseas patients seeking to make use of Japanese medical services. The project provides additional and comprehensive support, including training interpreters and translators in the high-level and international skills required in medical tourism, and providing support to facilitate collaborations between Japanese medical facilities and overseas counterparts.

For its part, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) launched a new visa category, Visa for Medical Stay, in 2011. This visa is issued to foreign patients wishing to visit Japan for medical purposes and whose treatment will require a stay of 3 months or more. The visa allows such patients to stay in Japan for a period of up to 6 months, along with accompanying persons. The visa is valid for a maximum of three years, during which period the visa holder is permitted to visit Japan as many times as required.

At the local authority level, medical facilities are working in collaboration with local governments and local travel agencies to offer tours that combine health checks with traditional tourism elements. These tours are being actively marketed to attract medical tourists from nearby Asian countries.

Many Asian countries have implemented national policy designed to boost the acquisition of foreign currency and increase domestic demand; each country is in the process of establishing international medical centers. According to the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ), a British journal for the medical travel industry, the number of medical tourists?people travelling abroad to undertake examinations and treatment?in 2008 was 6 million worldwide. But this figure is expected to increase in the future, a projection that tells of the hidden demand for the most appropriate medical services available?wherever they might be located in the world?among patients globally.

Collaborative frameworks involving government ministries and agencies will continue to grow, which in turn will allow medical tourism to develop further in Japan as a promising growth industry.

Strengths of Japanese medical care?and its global ambitions

The three pillars of Japan’s medical tourism are comprehensive health checks, advanced medical care, and beauty/health enhancement treatments.

In particular, medical care tours which combine health checkups and tourism represent the mainstream of current medical tourism. Many travel agents now offer packages that include everything from hospital appointment reservations through to accommodation.

The health checks available in Japan are conducted with the support of advanced medical technology?including positron emission tomography (PET) scans that excel at the early detection of cancer and advanced diagnostic imaging based on the very latest technology?and for this reason they represent an extremely attractive prospect to many foreign medical tourists; indeed, many have already taken advantage of these health checks.

Those hospitals that already have a strong record of treating non-Japanese patients are beginning to enhance facilities and medical technology, in order to be able to respond to the growing demand of patients all over the globe for ever more advanced medical care. Going forward, Japan will continue to provide internationally top-class cancer, cerebral, and other treatments through collaborations spanning multiple medical facilities.

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