Few hospitals offer online consultations

Japan's health ministry says that only 6.5 percent of the nation's medical institutions are currently able to provide online medical services to new patients.

Doctors have been allowed to provide medical consultations to first-time patients online and by smartphone, under certain conditions, since April of last year. Approval was given to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The ministry says that out of more than 110,000 medical facilities across the country 7,156 were providing online medical services to new patients as of the end of April.

The percentage of medical institutions offering online medical services for patients rises to 15.2 percent, when the institutions that only offer services to existing patients are included.

The percentages vary among the prefectures. More than 30 percent of the institutions in Yamagata and Nagano prefectures provide online consultations. Less than five percent of the institutions in Kyoto and Okayama prefectures offer them.

The health ministry says medical institutions may have been slow to start offering online consultations, due to the high cost of installing the necessary systems, and because they can charge more for in-person consultations.

The ministry may make the measure that allows doctors to provide online medical services for new patients permanent. But it plans to have local governments give the medical institutions explicit instructions, as there have been reports of unauthorized activities, such as psychotropic drugs being prescribed to new patients.