While the growing number of foreign tourists and residents in Japan has seen demand for medical services spike among non-Japanese-speaking patients in recent years, the health ministry’s first nationwide survey of the medical support system says it is failing to keep up with the surging need.

The survey, released Tuesday, showed 79.7 percent, or 1,363 hospitals, accepted non-Japanese patients in fiscal 2015. A total of 112 facilities said no foreign patients had visited their facilities, while 231 hospitals did not know if they accepted any.

Of the 1,363 facilities, a total of 900 hospitals, or 65 percent, said the foreign patients they treated had difficulty communicating in Japanese. What’s more, just 218 facilities said they had used medical interpreters, with many hospitals asking patients to find interpreters themselves.

The survey, conducted between Oct. 20 and Dec. 12 last year, drew valid responses from 1,710 medical institutions, 188 municipalities or prefectural governments and 47 medical interpretation service providers.

Despite the growing need, a mere 51 hospitals — just 3 percent — had in-house medical coordinators to guide non-Japanese patients through the various processes, the survey found.

Asked whether they were concerned about treating non-Japanese patients, with multiple answers allowed, 84.5 percent of the medical facilities surveyed noted language and communication issues, which they said could lead to inappropriate diagnoses or mistreatment. Of the hospitals surveyed, 63.9 percent also cited an inability to collect medical bills and the potential for lawsuits.

Among those that answered the survey, 486 hospitals in fiscal 2015 said they had failed to collect medical bills from foreign patients.

Together with the apparent lack of a support system for patients who do not speak Japanese, municipalities and governments have also admitted their shortcomings in the area, with more than 80 percent of them saying that they were unsure of current systems for foreign nationals, such as the number of medical facilities that provide interpreters or communication support.

“We haven’t had ‘trouble,’ but it is frustrating not to be able to fully communicate (with our patients) because of language barriers,” one medical institution said as part of the survey’s written answer section.

Others pointed out concerns over cultural differences.

“We often find ourselves puzzled over cultural differences,” one said, while another noted the long amount of time they had spend trying to explain medical procedures to a foreign emergency patient.

The survey also found that many providers of medical interpretation services had difficulties securing translators.

Based on the results of the survey, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said it will continue working to improve the country’s medical support system for foreign tourists and residents ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when a large influx of visitors is expected.

According to government data, the number of foreign tourists soared to a record 24.03 million in 2016 while the number of foreign residents also hit a record, topping 2.3 million in June last year.

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