A World View: Healthcare in Japan

January 4, 2024

A World View: Healthcare in Japan
1:28 reading time

Japan has a unique culture including food, housing, language, and etiquette. Also, Japan has been a model of the healthcare system for decades. Why?

First and foremost, Japan has universal health insurance coverage. Nearly all residents have health insurance administered by their employers, local governments, etc. This insurance covers 70-90% of their costs of medical care. Some of the remaining costs can be refunded based on age or income. 

In addition, about 80% of Japanese people purchase private health insurance to cover out-of-pocket costs. The result? Japanese people typically pay less for healthcare and are more likely to use the provided services without the cost being the first consideration.

People have free access to healthcare. Insurance typically covers any facility in Japan, nearly eliminating location and access to services as a concern. It’s strongly recommended that patients see their general or family physician before contacting a specialist, but many specialists have private clinics that also provide insured access.

The bottom line? Patients do not need to contact their insurance company to check if their desired clinic is covered (“in-network,” as we say in the US).

People do not need to wait for a long time at the clinics. A recent survey suggests that only 30% of clinics have appointment systems. In most cases, people can visit a clinic without making an appointment, and reasonable wait times are the norm.  

The downsides? Japan has limited options for telemedicine related to general health issues. Less than half of all clinics have EMR (electronic medical record) systems. Japan has fewer physicians than many other high-income countries.

As you can see, Japan has a unique healthcare system centered on the needs of the people. It’s certainly not perfect, but Japan has dealt with people’s needs using a unique healthcare system.

Posted by Dr. Sho Takeuchi, MD, MPH, CHES
Sho is our Assistant Program Manager at Sarana Health. His specialty is Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, a branch of medicine that aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to people with physical impairments or disabilities. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Emory University and provides a critical international perspective on healthcare, lifestyle, and more. 

Photo by Matthias Zomer

This article is for informational and educational use only and should not be considered a substitute for medical advice. Consult your health and wellness provider for more information.