National / Social Issues

Japan eyes steps to avert medical problems involving tourists


Plans are underway to help hospitals and other medical institutions avoid payment and other problems related to tourists, including unpaid bills, government sources said Thursday.

With Japan’s tourism boom unabated, the government will soon launch a working group to discuss the matter and draft a set of measures by May.

The measures may include drafting a unified manual for hospitals and encouraging municipalities to offer consultation services for foreign travelers.

A weaker yen and relaxed visa requirements are drawing tourists to Japan in record numbers. The tally hit 28.69 million in 2017, compared with just 8.61 million in 2010.

But the corresponding growth in unpaid medical bills is generating concern. Some tourists come to Japan without travel insurance, and differences in customs are also creating problems.

In one case, a woman who gave birth prematurely during her trip was unable to pay the ¥8 million ($75,000) bill, and the medical institution sought donations from foreign residents in Japan to cover her expenses, the sources said.

In another case, a medical institution experienced problems completing procedures for sending the body of a traveler who died in Japan from an acute disease back to the person’s country.

The working group, to be set up under a government task force on health care and medical policies, will be joined by officials from the relevant ministries, the Japan Medical Association and hospital groups.

The participants will also discuss ways to encourage medical institutions to hire more interpreters and use translation devices. They will also consider the need to create a system to reduce the financial burdens such institutions may have to bear when a problem occurs.