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Startups

Startups to gain better access to Japanese medical records

Certification program underway to ensure privacy protection

Faced with a rapidly aging population, Japan hopes that technological innovation, such as this robotic rehab device developed by Toyota Motor, will extend healthy life spans.    © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan will make it easier for startups and other technology companies to gain access to medical records as part of an effort to drive innovation and spur investments in the health care sector.

To ensure that businesses handle personal health information appropriately, a certification program will be set up by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which has requested 1.1 billion yen ($9.62 million) as part of its fiscal 2019 budget to help fund the program.  A panel of experts will hammer out rules governing privacy, ethics and other considerations.

With Japan's population aging quickly, the government considers prolonging healthy lifespans a key component of its growth strategy. Medical costs are expected to decrease if people can live longer in good health.

The project is expected to launch as early as the current fiscal year, with a third-party entity likely handling certifications. Requirements for earning the certification are already being discussed with the health ministry.

Hospitals and other health care institutions providing patients' medical records will be able to objectively determine whether a certified business -- even a little-known startup -- can properly handle the data.

The economy ministry is expected to pick up the pace of  trials in fiscal 2019 to combine existing treatments with digital technology. For instance, a patient may be reminded by a wearable device to take medication prescribed by a doctor. Such technological applications are projected to maximize the efficacy of existing drugs and medical equipment. The government will solicit companies and localities to take part in the trials.

With technology utilization essential to advancing medicine, the economy ministry aims to invite more startups and companies in other fields to get into health care and drive related investments.

Japan trails other major economies in investments in health care technology startups. The tally was just $35 million last year, compared with $4 billion in the U.S., $500 million in Europe and $550 million in China, according to the ministry.

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