The government will allow five non-Japanese doctors to practice at four hospitals in Tokyo from around December. Their patients will be limited to non-Japanese who agree to pay full costs themselves.
The move, proposed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and approved by the central government on June 29, is part of a “special zone” deregulation initiative spearheaded by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Currently, doctors from the U.S., the U.K., France and Singapore can practice in Japan without a Japanese medical license under bilateral agreements with those nations, but they can only see patients of their own nationality.
“As we have an Olympics coming up in Tokyo, we decided it is necessary to create an environment where foreign nationals can live in Tokyo without anxiety,” said Takafumi Kobayashi, head of the national strategic special zone coordination division at the metropolitan government.
The plan will see foreign practitioners placed at institutions across the capital. St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward, as well as its branch clinic St. Luke’s MediLocus in Chiyoda Ward, will each hire an American doctor. Juntendo University Hospital in Bunkyo Ward will get two doctors, one American and one French, while Keio University Hospital in Shinjuku Ward will acquire one British doctor.
The doctors, whose names and areas of expertise have yet to be announced, will be allowed to see patients of any nationality except Japanese. Foreign nationals covered by Japan’s public health insurance scheme can seek their services but will not be able to use the insurance, Kobayashi said.
St. Luke’s projects that the hospital group’s two American doctors will see a total of 8,640 people in 2016.
Kobayashi said the metropolitan government will consider expanding the list of such doctors if hospitals so request.
Tatsuo Hatta, a member of an advisory panel headed by the prime minister that took up the metropolitan government’s special zone request, said that, though small, it is a major step toward breaking down the regulatory barriers in the heavily protected health care sector — and infusing it with diversity and fresh ideas.
“Until now, non-Japanese doctors who were here under the bilateral agreements were of little use because they were only allowed to see patients from the same country they came from,” said Hatta, economist and president of the Fukuoka Prefecture-based think tank Asian Growth Research Institute.