AI is being increasingly used in various aspects of healthcare, including health prevention, diagnostic analysis, and treatment, as well as in the area of medical management. In the future, AI is likely to be integrated even more into healthcare practices, and become a part of all our lives.
In Japan, universal healthcare coverage ensures that everyone has access to health care insurance. Therefore, everyone can have a health insurance card and use it when seeking health care from medical institutions. However, it is possible that this will change in the future because the government is promoting the use of My Number Cards1 instead of health insurance cards as part of its initiative to transform the healthcare management system through the employment of new technologies.
On 7 June 2022, the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, adopted the Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform 2022, known as Honebuto no Hōshin, or the Big-Boned Policy2. It outlines the direction of fiscal and economic policy as well as the basic stance of the Japanese government for the next fiscal year.
Healthcare is one of the areas where the government has emphasised the importance of technological innovation, including digital transformation. To achieve this goal in healthcare, a major initiative is to promote and implement AI hospitals, and to promote the use of online medical services (2, P. 32). It is part of the process to promote the use of My Number Card as a healthcare insurance card. The policy announced that the government would mandate healthcare providers to install systems so that patients can use their My Number Cards as healthcare insurance cards in principle from April 2023, and eventually aim to abolish the use of the insurance card in principle (2, p. 32).
The use of this card would be beneficial not only to healthcare providers, but also to patients, according to the Digital Agency3. The Digital Agency and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare outlined the following benefits.4
- The use of this My Number Card would enable healthcare providers to access a patient’s past medicine history and streamline administrative and payment procedures.
- Using the My Number Card system instead of healthcare insurance cards is expected to improve efficiency of healthcare services and allow patients to apply for tax deductions for medical expenses more easily.
- The system of “High-cost Medical Expense Benefit5” would be automatically applied when the card is used in place of the healthcare insurance card.
My Number Cards have been accepted as a health insurance card at clinics and hospitals that are equipped with card readers since October 2021. As of 1st June 2022, only around 44.7% of residents in Japan have adopted the My Number Cards6. As of 15th May 2022, fewer than 20% of healthcare providers have implemented the systems, while roughly 58% of medical institutions have applied for card reader systems7.
AI-based facial recognition technologies are embedded into card reader systems used in medical institutions. AI technology will be used to verify the patients’ insurance qualifications if the My Number Card is used as a health insurance card. Can AI be expected to become part of everyone’s healthcare life in Japan as a result of the use of My Number Cards instead of health insurance cards? What does it mean for healthcare providers and patients?
1 the Social Security and Tax card, the Individual Number Card, also known as My Number Card
2 Cabinet Office. (2022). Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform 2022.
3 Digital Agency. (2021). https://www.digital.go.jp/news/lCQU-uoB/
4 Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan. (2021).
5 “High-Cost Medical Expense Benefit” refers to a reimbursement provided by the insurance provider if a patient’s medical payment exceeds a predetermined amount and the patient applies for it.
6 Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.(2022). Status of issuance of My Number Cards. https://www.soumu.go.jp/kojinbango_card/kofujokyo.html
7 Nagakura, K.(2022, May). Why did the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) make it ‘mandatory’ for medical institutions to introduce the My Number Card as an insurance card?. Nikkei X tech. https://xtech.nikkei.com/atcl/nxt/column/18/00001/06860/