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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Bridging the Medical Gap

Jul. 24, 2015

Japan is renowned for selling high-quality products like cars and electronics overseas. Now it’s also exporting medical expertise. China has the world’s largest population. It also has the most diabetics. Officials at the International Diabetes Federation say more than 380 million people worldwide have the disease. About a quarter are Chinese.

A Japanese doctor is trying to do something about the situation. Dr. Yoko Iizuka is introducing Japanese medical procedures for treatment at a hospital in Beijing.

Zhang Yanying was diagnosed with diabetes five months ago. She spends most of her day at home after retirement. She says she’s thirsty and tired all the time. She believes her diet may have triggered the disease.

"My family eats meat for every meal,” Zhang said. “If I cook too much, I eat more than I need. I also use lots of oil for stir-fried dishes."

Zhang is trying to eat more vegetables and get more exercise. But she wants professional help to fight the disease.

"I know people who have diabetes,” Zhang said. “Some have trouble with their eyes or legs or unstable blood pressure. I’m really worried because these symptoms are all life-threatening."

A new hospital is being built in the capital city to help patients like Zhang. It’s funded by a Chinese company, and a Japanese firm may also contribute. It will open later this year, and is set to be Beijing’s first hospital to provide diabetes treatment the Japanese way. In Japan, each patient is treated by a team made up of a doctor, pharmacist, nutritionist, and foot-care specialist.

A group of medical professionals from Japan recently visited the hospital to show how it works. Dr. Iizuka leads the team.

Dr. Iizuka has been working as a diabetes specialist in Tokyo for 20 years. She was born in China and lived there until she finished high school. Dr. Iizuka has always wanted to act as a bridge between Japan and China.

"I am very thrilled and excited,” Iizuka said. “I believe that both our staff and the patients will be off to a good start at this event."

The staff offered free consultations to pre-registered patients for two days. More than 150 people signed up. They were eager to learn more about the disease and how to treat it. Their doctors hadn’t provided them with that information.

“I would like to ask the doctor about my daily diet and exercise,” said a male patient. “I also want to know about medication.”

Zhang joined the session. She talked to the doctor about her medical history and current symptoms. She also met with a pharmacist to discuss medication. A nutritionist explains what Zhang can eat, and how much. He used models that have been modified for Chinese food.

Zhang also consulted a foot-care specialist who checked how her foot reacts to stimulus. People with diabetes can develop serious foot conditions. Foot-care specialists check whether patients have infectious diseases like athlete’s foot or problems with their nervous system.

"I learned a lot,” Zhang said. “The food I was told to stay away from is actually ok to consume. I just need to eat it properly. I must chew well and have a balanced diet."

"All of the patients we met with were highly motivated to begin with,” Iizuka said. “Given the correct knowledge, their conditions can be improved right away."

Dr. Iizuka said it’s important to train local medical staff to provide services that meet Japanese standards.


Takafumi Terui joined Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu from Beijing to discuss the subject.

Beppu: Takafumi, what were the Chinese patients telling you about this new Japanese way?

Terui: Many patients I met were happy to have specific and technical information to help their diabetes. They say Chinese doctors usually just prescribe them some medicine and give them general advice like you shouldn’t drink alcohol or eat sweet things. But this treatment is different. The medical staff is more specific with advice. It depends on the patient’s condition. They may say something like you can drink up to 30 milliliters of alcohol per day or you should eat steamed food instead of fried food. Zhang was worried without knowing how to take care of herself but now she has gained confidence and motivation from the advice.

Shibuya: Takafumi, what are the challenges in providing this kind of service in China?

Terui: It was a trial this time so it was free. They still need to work out costs in a functioning hospital and I think that’s the key. It needs to be affordable for people like Zhang. But they also need to work out how to maintain the quality from Japan. They say they need to train local staff to get the same quality of expertise and services. Dr. Iizuka and other Japanese medical professionals are planning to visit Beijing once a month for training.

Beppu: So do you think there are chances that this trial can expand largely in China?

Terui: Dr. Iizuka says patient feedback tells her it will work here. The Chinese investor who plans to back this project says people in China are really interested in Japanese medical services. The investor is keen to see the services expand throughout China. In Japan, the government has been promoting the export of the nation’s medical services so I think that in the future a system needs to be set up for medical exchanges, including human resources between the countries.