In recent years there have been dramatic advances in information processing and telecommunications technologies, and these developments are promising to change people's lives going into the 21st century. In February of 1995, the Advanced Information and Communications Society Promotion Headquarters (headed by the Prime Minister) assembled its Basic Policies for Promoting a Society of Advanced Information and Communications, and revised it in November of 1998.
The Basic Policies states that the active utilization of information and telecommunication technologies and the improvement of services are encouraged in the areas of health, medical care, and welfare that are closely related to the lives of people. This is intended to realize a society where every citizen can enjoy the benefits of information and telecommunication taking into consideration our future society with fewer children and more elderly people.
However, since the areas of health, medical care, and welfare closely relate to the lives of people, the information technology must be implemented based on three basic principles: 1 information can be meaningful when it is efficiently used; 2 it is important to think from the standpoint of the recipients of services; and 3 the safety of information must be secured.
2. Efforts for Promoting Utilization of Information Technology
(1) Utilizing information technology in the areas of health, medical care, and welfare
(2) Information-oriented administration
The Basic Plan for Promoting Information-oriented Administration was amended in December of 1997 with the background of the improved information infrastructure within the Government and the rapid development of information-oriented society. Acting this, the Ministry of Health and Welfare reviewed its Basic Plan for Promoting Information-oriented Administration and promotes further information-oriented administration based upon the plan. It aims at an efficient and improved clerical work and improved quality in the public services taking into consideration various social needs including the provision of information through the Internet and the provision of application and registration procedures on-line.
(3) International initiatives
According to the decision made at the Summit Conference (Naples Summit) in July of 1994, the G7 Ministerial Meeting on Information Society was held in Brussels in February of 1995 where eleven joint international projects were agreed upon.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare is participating in the Global Health Care Applications Project, which has planned nine subprojects including the Medical Image Reference Center and the International harmonization in using data cards in the areas of health and medical care. Thus more detailed studies have been going on to work out strategies for using the information and telecommunications technology in the area of health care. Japan has proposed and leads the Medical Image Reference Center project which is for providing, via the Internet, medical experts at home and abroad with medical electronic images that are collected and accumulated from major cancer and cardiovascular centers all over the world.
In the Projects Applied to Health and Medical Care on a Global Basis, the Coordinators Meeting of the representatives from the health and welfare ministries of G7 nations are held once or twice a year to perform a crosswise evaluations and guidance for each of the subprojects.
3. Efforts toward Year 2000 Computer Problems
Year 2000 (Y2K) computer problems refer to a state that computer systems may malfunction if their programs do not support their date on and after the first day of the year 2000. It can be a serious problem that may jeopardize the people's reliance on building up the society of an advanced information and telecommunications technology in the 21st century. The Advanced Information and Communications Society Promotion Headquarters (headed by the Prime Minister) decided the Action Plan on Year 2000 Computer Problems as a basic policy of the Government in September of 1998. To keep pace with it, the Ministry of Health and Welfare also established in the ministry the Working Group on Measures against Year 2000 Computer Problems and has worked out the Ministry of Health and Welfare's Implementation Policy for Measures against Year 2000 Computer Problems. It specifies the concrete policies in the areas within the responsibility of the Ministry.
The Ministry's responsible areas include medical care services, water supply services, social welfare institutions, environmental sanitation industries, waste disposal centers, etc. In particular, the areas of medical care and water supply services are closely related to the lives and daily living of people and thus an utmost action must be taken to cope with Year 2000 computer problems.
(1) Possible measures in the area of medical care
In the area of medical care, medical device manufacturers are required to verify the safety of their products already delivered and medical care institutions are also required to verify with the cooperation of manufacturers the safety of the medical devices and medical information systems that they are using. Also required is that a contingency plan be developed against unexpected emergencies. The Ministry of Health and Welfare has designated the first-priority medical devices that may affect the lives of patients in case of trouble. It demands that manufacturers carry out general check on their own including simulation tests for all medical devices they handle in addition to the above-mentioned first-priority medical devices. The results of their check are being made widely available to general public through the Ministry's Web pages on the Internet. It also demand that medical institutions verify the safety of their medical devices and medical information systems as well as making a general check on their own to, for example, develop a contingency plan in case of needs.
(2) Possible measures in the area of water supply services
Computers are used in the water supply facilities such as water purification plants and water distribution systems for the automatic control of the amount of chlorine infusion and of water supply according to the qualities of water sources and the amount of water usage. However, these computer-based operations are generally not controlled by date and thus even if part of a facility should shut down it could be switched to manual operation. It is therefore hardly possible to expect that any serious problem could occur in water supply systems at the time of year 2000. The Ministry, however, are requesting water suppliers to implement necessary checks creating contingency plans as well as the replacement of devices if necessary.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare provides as necessary the information on their actions and manufacturers' and suppliers' efforts for preparing against Year 2000 computer problems on its Web page over the Internet. (http://www.mhw.go.jp/topics/c2000/tp0911-1.html)