Build organization that acts in the interest of patients

It is hoped that this group of medical experts will act to protect the health of patients and the public in general.

Kichiro Matsumoto, an executive board member of the Japan Medical Association, has been elected as the association’s new president.

“The JMA’s role is to sufficiently protect the lives and health of the people,” Matsumoto said at a press conference. He is the director of a medical clinic in Saitama City and has served on a government advisory panel.

The JMA has about 170,000 member doctors, many of whom are general practitioners. They support local medical services on a daily basis and are deeply involved in national policy decisions, such as those regarding the improvement of the medical care system and the revision of medical treatment fees. It is a serious responsibility.

Japan has long been proud of its many doctors and hospital beds, and its “free access” system in which patients can freely choose where they want to see a doctor. However, it cannot be said that the country’s medical care system sufficiently displayed its capabilities on the local front lines when the coronavirus was spreading rapidly.

Only 35% of all medical institutions were designated by prefectural governments as facilities to treat outpatients with a fever. A number of infected people did not receive proper treatment and died while recuperating. Hospital beds for COVID-19 patients were in short supply, and there were not enough hospitals accepting people who were recovering from the disease.

It is true that many doctors have struggled to treat COVID-19 patients. However, if the JMA had taken the lead and worked more systematically on testing and treatment, the crisis would not have been as serious as it was. There must have been quite a few people who had doubts about medical care services at that time.

Previous JMA President Toshio Nakagawa did not run in the latest presidential election and stepped down after just one two-year term, which is an unusual move. Under his leadership, the JMA had a strained relationship with the government and ruling parties. For example, he was cautious about holding the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

It is important for Matsumoto to cooperate with the government to build a medical system that can deal with infectious diseases. It is hoped that he will exercise leadership so that the JMA can work as a unified organization in emergencies.

The Finance Ministry has proposed the establishment of a “primary care doctor” system. The ministry said it will consider a system in which people who wish to use the system would register in advance with institutions that provide medical care on holidays and at night. The move is aimed not only at preventing people from being refused a medical examination by doctors, but also at curbing medical costs by reducing visits to multiple medical institutions.

There are few people in Japan who can provide comprehensive medical care, due to the division into specializations such as internal medicine and surgery. There are many hurdles to realizing the primary care doctor system.

The JMA, which consists mainly of general practitioners, has long called on the people to make use of primary care doctors. However, some members reportedly oppose the institutionalization of the system on the grounds that it would lead to the sorting of doctors. It is essential to think about the future of medical care as a whole, rather than focusing on self-interest.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 30, 2022)