Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Exporting to Japan

Even with the current global economic challenges, there are still opportunities for U.S companies to export to Japan particularly in the medical and healthcare sectors. American firms have developed a strong presence in Japan’s healthcare sector, supplying almost one-quarter of the medical device market and about 15 percent of Japan’s pharmaceutical consumption. Together these two sectors account for approximately one-third of Japan’s annual $300 billion in spending on healthcare.

In spite of the March 2011 catastrophic earthquake plus the fact that Japan and many countries are living in an era of financial strains and uncertainty, there are still new opportunities emerging for U.S. firms in the healthcare services sector in Asia and especially Japan.

The Japanese government has formed a medical IT Task Force within their Information Technology Strategic Headquarters to discuss how to promote healthcare IT in the country. Specific topics being discussed include developing a nationwide medical records database, making efforts to enable seamless regional medical cooperation, utilizing reimbursement information, and how to develop medical information databases for drug safety.

The Tokyo Chapter of Health 2.0, a U.S. industry organization started in 2010 originally was established to introduce leading online and mobile healthcare technologies to address how online and mobile healthcare technologies can be used successfully in the Japanese healthcare sector. U.S. promising areas in healthcare IT exports includes security, mobile applications, and data integration solutions.

The adoption of electronic medical records alone is a major healthcare IT priority in Japan with over 40 percent of the hospitals with more than 400 beds implementing EMR systems plus a good percentage of those hospitals use electronic ordering systems.

According to analysts at the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Commercial Services, the market for medical equipment in Japan is expected to show steady positive growth in the next few years. Japan already has certain types of medical equipment such as MRI units, CT scanners, and therapeutic systems including robotics. Market demand for high-end medical equipment is also supported by favorable changes in Japan’s reimbursement pricing system for these products.

There are indications that more foreign advanced medical technologies are introduced in China and/or Korea before being introduced in Japan. As a result, advanced diagnostic imaging equipment and other globally available sophisticated medical equipment not yet introduced into the Japanese market should have good sales potential for U.S. companies. It looks promising for U.S. companies to be especially strong in sophisticated market segments such as pacemakers, advanced interventional cardiology products, orthopedic implants, and laser surgical equipment.

One of the Japan’s goals has been to attract foreign patients and build up medical tourism. Before the massive March earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear power issues, efforts were being made to build a medical tourism market in Japan, but as expected with the catastrophe, there has been a sharp drop in the number of tourists visiting Japan. However, this also means that the Japanese government will have to make more efforts to introduce the latest medical diagnostics and treatments in order to attract foreign patients.

Another area open to expansion for U.S. companies is the Japanese biotechnology industry. Japanese pharmaceutical companies are looking for opportunities with U.S. biotech companies in the areas of new drug candidates and pipelines, strategic partnerships, licensing, and research collaborations. Also, biotech research equipment especially related to regenerative medicine is also expected to grow and present good opportunities for U.S firms.

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