Japan's medical field is increasingly adopting speech privacy systems to protect conversations


Hospitals and drugstores are increasingly installing speech privacy systems to keep patients from being overheard by others when divulging sensitive private information to staff.

At Ebira Pharmacy, a drugstore in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, speakers in the waiting room start making a muffled sound when a patient talks to a pharmacist in a booth. A sign in the lounge informs people that the pharmacy is operating “a machine that makes conversations indiscernible.”

A microphone system picks up the conversation and turns it into a scrambled noise, says manufacturer Glory Ltd. In addition to drugstores and hospitals, banks are also introducing the system.

Ebira installed the system two years ago and customers seem to like it.

When one reporter visited the pharmacy, a woman in her 50s in the waiting room said she was glad others would not be able to hear her discuss her condition. One pharmacist said the system makes their work easier because they don’t need to lower their voices in talking with patients.

Shuichi Kasai, an Ebira executive, called the system “very meaningful,” noting that the revised pharmaceutical law has expanded the role of pharmacists, requiring them to listen as patients describe their conditions in detail.

Jinnai Women’s Clinic in Tokyo, which specializes in fertility treatment, has introduced a system that masks conversations with a noise like that of a crowd.

“Special attention is needed for the privacy of patients when it comes to treatment for infertility,” said Hikoyoshi Jinnai, director of the clinic.

Inquiries about such systems have been increasing, especially from obstetrics and mental-health clinics, said an official at Yamaha Corp., a leading musical instrument maker that sells the system used at the Jinnai clinic.

At the same time, a lack of regard for patients’ privacy persists among some doctors 10 years after Japan’s private information protection law came into force.

“There are still doctors who consider themselves superior to patients and do not consider their patients’ thoughts,” said Setsu Kuboi, a lawyer who heads Patients’ Rights Ombudsman Japan, a nonprofit organization in the city of Fukuoka.

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