OECD Reviews of Health Care Quality: Japan 2015

Raising Standards

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This report reviews the quality of health care in Japan, and seeks to highlight best practices, and provides a series of targeted assessments and recommendations for further improvements to quality of care. One of Japan’s foremost policy challenges is to create an economically-active ageing society. Excellent health care will be central to achieving this. A striking feature of the Japanese health system is its openness and flexibility. In general, clinics and hospitals can provide whatever services they consider appropriate, clinicians can credential themselves in any speciality and patients can access any clinician without referral. These arrangements have the advantage of accessibility and responsiveness. Such light-touch governance and abundant flexibility, however, may not best meet the health care needs of a super-ageing society. Japan needs to shift to a more structured health system, separating out more clearly different health care functions (primary care, acute care and long-term care, for example) to ensure that peoples’ needs can be met by the most appropriate service, in a coordinated manner if needed. As this differentiation occurs, the infrastructure to monitor and improve the quality of care must simultaneously deepen and become embedded at every level of governance –institutionally, regionally and nationally.


Primary and community care in Japan

Rather than having a dedicated workforce with specialist training, primary care in Japan is typically delivered by a cadre of semigeneralist/ semi-specialists – physicians who leave hospital practice after an unspecified amount of time to set up as generalists in the community. In many ways, these arrangements have served well until now. Access is good, particularly to advanced diagnostics, and the system is patientcentred in offering free choice of primary or secondary care provider. The challenges of an ageing society and multimorbidity, fiscal pressures and some worrying indicators around readmission rates, however, call into question whether this model of primary care is best suited to Japan’s emerging health and social care needs. Recognising these challenges, Japan plans to introduce a distinct, specialist primary care workforce throughout the health care system, as of 2017. This chapter examines the steps that are needed to achieve this, and to embed quality monitoring and improvement activities from the start.


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