TOKYO -- Japan Post Co. will begin home delivery of prescription drugs as soon as May, lowering hurdles associated with the growing trend toward at-home medical care.
The Japan Post Holdings unit will work with Medical System Network -- Japan's largest pharmacy operator, with a network of some 1,400 locations nationwide -- to deliver pharmaceuticals in the Tokyo, Sapporo and Nagoya metropolitan areas. The service will be the first in Japan to home-deliver prescription pharmaceuticals on a commercial basis.
The delivery service is aimed at patients who have received a doctor's approval and entered into a contract with a pharmacy. Only drugs that pharmacists judge safe for delivery, such as lozenges and intravenously administered liquids, will be eligible.
Patients undergoing at-home care first need to receive a diagnosis and prescription from a doctor. A pharmacist will then visit the patient's home or nursing facility to provide instructions for administration, information on side effects and other support. After that, the medication will be sent directly from the pharmacy to the patient.
Having a pharmacist meet with the patient directly keeps the service in line with legislation mandating prescription drugs be sold in person. Prescription drug sales via the Internet or other impersonal channels are banned under Japanese law.
In-person meetings must take place each time a new prescription is written. But direct shipping afterward will eliminate the need for pharmacists to hand-deliver products such as heavy IV bags. Letting Japan Post take over that burden will be a boon to the pharmacy business, which is growing increasingly short-staffed.
Japan Post plans to work with makers of nursing products and others to increase the scope of the service going forward.
An estimated 156,000 people per day underwent home medical care in 2014, the Ministry of Health reports. That level is the highest since surveys began in 1996. Japan is using tweaks to its public insurance system and other methods to promote at-home care, part of a campaign to hold down medical costs.