Local hospitals, clinics to share information on COVID-19 home care patients

The government plans to create a new system that aims to help medical institutions keep tabs on COVID-19 patients who are recuperating at home.

As the monitoring of such patients has primarily been the purview of local public health centers, the government intends to facilitate the sharing of information between local public health centers and doctors at regional medical institutions, in a bid to reduce morbidity rates due to sudden deteriorations in the condition of patients who have not been hospitalized. If approved, the system could be rolled out sometime this fiscal year, at the earliest.

As part of its digitization campaign, the government has been pushing policies that seek to digitize medical records and other data in order to extend the nation’s healthy life expectancy. A task force led by Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura is slated to compile a roadmap for the “digital health” reforms as early as June.

Under the proposed system, not only public health center staff but also doctors at hospitals and clinics will be able to monitor fluctuations in patients’ body temperatures, blood oxygen levels and any other changes in symptoms, where advance consent from the patients has been obtained. If necessary, home visits or online diagnoses will be provided. If the patients are diagnosed as being at risk of becoming seriously ill, they will be hospitalized immediately.

As of May 26, the number of COVID-19 patients recuperating at home has risen to 27,359. Public health

centers have largely been monitoring these patients’ condition by phone; but in some cases, patients have

taken a rapid turn for the worse, and died at home without proper medical attention.

The ministry has been urging local governments to work more closely with local medical associations and institutions. But as one government official said, such collaboration “has yet to spread sufficiently on a national level.”

Digitization is seen as a means to ease the burden of public health center staff who have been overwhelmed with work during the pandemic, while facilitating greater information sharing to ensure a more flexible response.

From April next year, the government will begin to examine adaptation of the system for future application to infectious diseases other than COVID-19. The goal is to pass the necessary legislation and establish a pipeline for cooperation between public health centers and medical institutions for all infectious diseases by fiscal 2024.

The government also wants to make it possible for holders of My Number identification cards to view test results, allergy information and other data recorded in electronic patient files on Mynaportal, a special website for card holders, from fiscal 2024.

Individuals’ past immunization history can be already be viewed on Mynaportal. The task force also hopes to add COVID-19 vaccination records for viewing on the site as early as possible, and will address the task in their roadmap to be compiled.