I’m sitting in Narita Airport waiting for my flight back to Seattle and reflecting on my experiences at the STS Forum in Kyoto and the meetings I had with customers in Tokyo.
Besides the opportunity to hear from Japan’s new prime minister, I was thrilled to attend a luncheon presentation given by the Chairman of Toyota, Mr. Fujio Cho. Mr. Cho reviewed the history of Toyota and shared personal thoughts on Toyota’s well known and highly regarded production methods. I am aware that many healthcare organizations send executives to Japan to study with Toyota and take back home ideas on how to transfer some of that knowledge and relentless pursuit of perfection to patient care.
Another highlight was spending some time with Dr. Yuji Yamanobe and some of his fellow staff members from the National Center for Child Health and Development. Dr. Yamanobe was trained as a plastic surgeon but now spends his time working with his hospital to improve healthcare IT and the quality and safety of care. Dr. Yamanobe provided an overview of the Japanese healthcare system that surprised me. Despite having a population about one-third the size of the US, Japan has nearly twice as many hospitals. According to the doctor, the average appendectomy patient who is discharged within 2 days from a US hospital, spends a week hospitalized in Japan. Furthermore, the hospital receives about one-tenth the amount of money that a typical US hospital would receive for caring for the same patient. He also said that a typical 500 bed Japanese hospital would be staffed with just 600 workers, most of them trained doctors and nurses. In other words, it’s not uncommon for Japanese nurses to be changing bed linens and for Japanese doctors for be pushing patients around in wheelchairs.
I found that surprising in a country that is the birthplace of Toyota. Clearly there is an opportunity to bring greater efficiency to the Japanese healthcare system. And in fact, I was told that the government hopes to reduce the total number of hospital beds in Japan from around 320,000 to 160,000 while increasing the capacity of nursing homes to care for Japan’s aging population.
I was duly impressed when Dr. Yamanobe told me that his hospital was virtually paperless and that at least 20 percent of Japanese hospitals had full CPOE. That places them well ahead of American hospitals, but then that comes as no surprise since America is so far behind the rest of the industrialized world on the path to electronic records.
I was struck by the opportunity for us to learn from each other, and create new bridges of understanding in our quest to improve the efficiency, safety and quality of patient care. I commend Dr. Yamanobe for his leadership and interest in bringing greater innovations to his hospital and for his interest in partnering with Microsoft’s healthcare team in Japan.
Bill Crounse, MD Worldwide Health Director Microsoft Corporation