The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

We’ve been talking a lot about digital at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) in recent months, not only in terms of how it has helped us continue events and advocacy efforts throughout the pandemic, but also the potential it has to advance healthcare.

Speaking of the pandemic, one impact it has had on me is weight gain. As a man rapidly approaching age 50, my midsection is quite susceptible to the reduced activity brought on by the need to stay home. And that’s one reason many of the stories in this issue of The ACCJ Journal really connect with me.

I’m a lifelong techie, so my smartphone and watch make battling the bulge easier. I’m predisposed to making tech part of my life, and the advances in these devices have really accelerated in recent years. They can be a powerful tool in managing health—especially as we look for ways to better monitor our condition while reducing in-person visits to crowded clinics. As the healthcare industry works to advance telemedicine—a need laid bare by Covid-19—these gadgets can make a difference.

In fact, Dr. Yasuhiro Suzuki, former chief medical and global health officer for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, whom we hear from in a story starting here, sees the monitoring of physiological data over the long term using wearable devices as a key part of future healthcare.

So, recognition of the benefit is there, but work remains in terms of availability.

One obstacle I have found to applying the capa­bilities of these devices to my own health man­agement is regulatory approval. In its Series 4 watch, Apple Inc. added electrocardiogram and other heart monitoring tools. That was enough to move me to upgrade from Series 3, given my father’s history of heart problems—he had quadruple bypass surgery when younger than I am now. And while I am currently fine, anything I can do to keep tabs on irregularities is most welcome.

I was excited about the feature, but two years later it is still not available in Japan. The hardware is there. It’s on my wrist at all times. The watch can do it, but the feature can’t be enabled because its use has still not been approved.

The intricacies of review and approval are beyond my expertise as a writer, but I know that a common concern among pharmaceutical companies is the time required for such processes in Japan. As a consumer, it is frustrating to have pos­­session of technologies that could make a difference in my life but remain inactive due to red tape—and this could turn many who are less enamored with tech than I to lose interest. If we are to truly ad­vance healthcare, we must find a way to transcend these barriers and make the latest technologies available to everyone.

Of course, these tools merely provide a snap­shot of our physical state and alert us to poten­tial problems that require con­sultation with a doctor. Also important are the innovative treatments being devel­oped by pharma­­ceutical companies. One of the perks of my role as editor-in-chief of The ACCJ Journal is the chance to talk one-on-one with industry leaders in this sector, and this month I was able to catch up with AbbVie G.K. President James Feliciano to learn more about the current state of advances in medicine. Our dis­cussion starts here. Like all my talks with those in the ACCJ who are leading the charge for better health, it left me feeling upbeat about the future.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.