Health minister looks to bolster hospital translation services

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

To make Japan’s medical facilities more accessible to foreigners ahead of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, the health ministry is looking to bolster multilingual services at hospitals, an official said Friday.

In its fiscal 2014 budget proposal to the Diet, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will request about ¥146 million for the project.

Although there are few specifics available, the ministry is hoping to station trained medical interpreters who can speak English, Chinese, Portuguese and other languages at around 30 hospitals, said the official, who asked not to be named.

In addition to conveying what non-Japanese patients are trying to say to the doctors, the interpreters would also be expected to handle simpler tasks, such as showing them how to pay or directing them to treatment.

The lack of medical institutions that can handle foreign residents unable to speak Japanese has been a problem for a long time, the official said. But with an influx of foreigners imminent and pressure high to make the event a success, attitudes in Tokyo are suddenly changing, she said.

More than 10 million tourists visited Japan in 2013 — the first time since the Japan National Tourism Organization began taking records in 1964. The initiative, however, targets not only tourists, but also foreign residents, she said.

“Long-term foreign residents here are paying for medical insurance and covered by our national health policy. So we want to make sure they are treated equal to Japanese citizens and free of worries,” she said.

The communication problems in Japan have prompted some foreigners to head to Japan’s regional rivals, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, where they’re likely to face fewer communication problems when getting treatment, the official explained.