Pharmacists will likely be allowed to hold online consultations with patients about their medication from April 2020, reflecting the rising demand for in-home medical care among the country’s rapidly graying population, officials said Tuesday.
The central government already allows doctors to conduct online consultations, and the health ministry is aiming to legally extend the capacity to pharmacists.
The ministry is set to submit a bill to the ongoing Diet session to revise a law that currently requires face-to-face consultation between patients and pharmacists, to prevent patients from suffering serious side effects from their medication.
The revised law will also permit patients to have their medication delivered, but initially only a limited group will be able to take advantage of the service, according to the officials.
Prior to confirming the plan to roll the service out across the country, the government allowed people in specially designated zones in Aichi, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures to have consultations online. It was made available to residents of remote islands and depopulated areas in those prefectures from last summer.
The zones were created in June last year and public health insurance began covering drugs obtained through online consultations from July. As of November, six people had used the service, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
Online health consultations have been widely available in Japan since 2015, following the launch of the service for residents on remote islands or in rural areas in 1997.
The ministry is designing the new online drug consultation system based discussions with experts and data collected in the special zones.
Experts point to the benefits of telemedicine, saying it can lessen the risk of infection during hospital visits by the elderly and other patients while cutting down on costs.