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Major Japanese mobile carriers are starting to offer online medical services through smartphone apps.

The companies, including KDDI Corp., which operates the au brand, are adding functions to their health monitoring apps that allow users to consult doctors and pharmacists by video chat.

The goal is to meet rising demand from people seeking health services from home amid the pandemic.

A 27-year-old woman from Tokyo used the au Wellness health app on Wednesday for her first online medical checkup.

"I don't feel comfortable going to the hospital amid the coronavirus epidemic," she said.

"It is easier to use than I expected," she said after speaking to a dermatologist about symptoms of skin irritation. "It was as if I was speaking to the doctor in person, so I want to use it again."

KDDI began offering the online medical checkup service on the au Wellness app, which records users' step counts and the number of calories burned, from June. Checkups cost ¥330 per session.

It also plans to offer medication consultations with pharmacists from September.

"We want to offer services that can solve issues in many situations with just one app," a KDDI representative said.

Industry peer SoftBank Corp. offers online medical examinations on its health management app intended for companies to use through employees' welfare programs. Companies that take great care of their workers' health have started using the app as part of their programs, officials of the carrier said.

Meanwhile, NTT Docomo Inc. has formed a capital and business tie-up with medical technology company Medley Inc. The carrier plans to allow its customers to use Medley's online medical checkup app using their Docomo accounts later this year.

In April last year, Japan began allowing initial medical consultations to be held online as a special measure. While the measure is currently limited to use during the pandemic, there are discussions within the government about making the measure permanent.

A senior official of the SoftBank affiliate that operates its health management app said that the coronavirus pandemic created "a favorable market environment earlier than initially expected."

The communications ministry has selected online medical services as one of the topics of this year's lectures held for older people on smartphone use. The lectures are to be held at some 1,800 locations around Japan.

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