Japan Establishes Programs to Address Medical Errors

Recently, Japan has seen a surge in hospital errors as well as an increase in improper administration of anticancer medications, prompting Japanese health officials to take action against these negative trends. Two new programs have been established by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW), designed specifically to deal with these troubling issues of medical treatment mistakes.

To address the issue of fatal and non-fatal hospital errors, the MHLW has created a trial malpractice database on the Internet. The database provides information on unexpected hospital deaths and serious after-effects of treatments, whether or not a mistake was made while treating a patient. Japan’s health officials are hoping that this information, to be provided by about 250 national and university hospitals in Japan, will better educate nurses and doctors on how to prevent accidents and near-accident patterns.

Additionally, all hospitals will be required to classify all non-fatal accidents as “chilly” (hiyari) or “alarming” (hatto). Since 2001, about 15,000 reports of hiyari and hatto cases have been voluntarily reported by over 240 hospitals. The independently run Tokyo agency, the Japan Council for Quality Health Care, will investigate these reports and provide pattern analyses to help doctors and nurses understand the specific patterns that lead to these hospital errors. The information in the new malpractice database will be officially posted online in April 2005.

Japanese health officials are also eager to address errors made by pharmacists. The MHLW launched a new certification system for pharmacists who specialize in administering anticancer drugs. The Japan Hospital Pharmacist Association is planning to certify those pharmacists who have superior knowledge and expertise on the nearly 300 kinds of anticancer medicines that are available in Japan, including the growing number of anticancer drugs from Europe and the United States. To receive certification, pharmacists will have to demonstrate that they are developing their clinical experience and are fully aware of the medicinal properties of all anticancer drugs. The Association will begin offering annual certifications during the next fiscal year. Applicants will be required to have a minimum of 3-5 years of experience working in cancer wards or a similar environment. This is the first specialty certification system to accredit pharmacists in Japan.