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Health ministry aims to allow home delivery of prescription drugs by spring of 2020

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has decided to allow nationwide home delivery of prescription drugs for patients who have received explanations from certified pharmacists, according to people familiar with the decision.

The ministry will submit a bill revising the law governing safety of pharmaceuticals and medical devices to the ordinary session of the Diet next year and try to introduce the new arrangement from the spring of 2020, they said.

As some doctors are already offering online consultations and examinations, the online pharmaceutical guidance will enable patients to receive one-stop medical service over the internet.

Online purchases are already possible for over-the-counter drugs, but patients are legally required to receive face-to-face guidance from certified pharmacists when receiving prescription drugs. Patients therefore need to visit pharmacies to buy prescription drugs, although online medical consultation became easier to introduce this fiscal year with changes to publicly set medical service fees. The first consultation by medical doctors must still be done face-to-face in principle.

In May, the government began to allow online guidance by certified pharmacies for prescription drugs at three national strategic special zones in the city of Fukuoka in southern Japan, Aichi Prefecture, in central Japan, as well as in the city of Yabu in the western Japan prefecture of Hyogo. Patients living on remote islands or areas receiving online medical consultations can now receive prescription drugs by mail when seeing pharmacists is difficult. The national strategic special zones are designated to boost regional economies and promote international competitiveness.

The health ministry intends to expand this system across the nation, but still set certain conditions, such as limiting usage in remote areas or requiring pharmacists to have some face-to-face contact with users.

Some observers say the current arrangement for the special zones are too strict to be used widely, while the Japan Pharmaceutical Association is cautious about expanding its availability, saying it would not be possible to secure the safety of patients. It is likely that stakeholders will continue to try to influence the content of the bill until it is submitted to the Diet.

(Japanese original by Ryosuke Abe, Medical Welfare News Department)

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