May 27, 2020

New Entries Into the Online Medical Treatment Field

The spread of the novel coronavirus has prompted a succession of new entries into the online medical treatment field, particularly from new companies. From April, such treatment was allowed for even first-time examinations, and medical institutions submitting notification of online medical treatment rose to at least 10 times the normal level. The diversity of companies entering the field is widening the range of options for patients, and encouraging change in treatment facilities.

Against that background, LINE will enter the online medical treatment business this summer. It is starting a dedicated app that will allow doctors to use its video call function to diagnose patients remotely. LINE expects at least 2,000 doctors to use the social media site, which has over 80 million users in Japan. It is also considering an electronic payment system for paying bills at hospitals and pharmacies. Moves by LINE, with its large customer base, are likely to boost the extension of such services.

Other than video calls, LINE will also link its LINE Pay electronic payment system to the online medical treatment app. Most hospitals and pharmacies do not support electronic payments yet, but LINE is calling on these facilities to introduce the system.

LINE will collect service charges for the medical treatment app from users. It will either take a monthly charge from doctors and hospitals, or patients will pay. There are many new companies in online medical treatment in Japan, and if the subscription bill is paid by doctors, the fee would be tens of thousands of Yen, while the burden on the patient is a few hundred Yen per time. The entry of capital-rich Line to this field could help to reduce fees.

But issues remain. In the USA, around 90% of patient records are electronic, but in Japan the figure is only around 40%. Slow adoption of IT in medical treatment is being raised as a problem. Some business operators are also concerned that the entry of so many new companies could lead to inappropriate activities, which could invite responses such as stricter regulation.