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From Silver to Gold: The Implications of an Aging Population in Japan

GE Japan and GE Healthcare Japan, in collaboration with The Economist Group, hosted "GE healthymagination Day 2010" in Tokyo, where over 500 of Japan's government, corporate and academic elite gathered to discuss the implications of Japan's aging population.

Japan is facing a significant demographic challenge of a rapidly aging population, coupled with a low birth rate. This means that Japan’s population, which began to decline in 2005, is now expected to decline from 127.5 million in 2009 to below 120 million by 2025, and to 90 million by 2055. The country’s 28 million elderly those aged over 65 — will account for more than one — third (33.7%) of the total population by 2035 and for one out of every 2.5 people by 2055.

The current Japanese healthcare infrastructure is not set up to provide care in the home to this population, however the Japanese government is keen to capitalize on this opportunity. They plan to turn this unprecedented demographic change into a source of economic growth.

During the course of the half-day event, key stakeholders from across Japan and GE discussed potential solutions for the graying population. In other words, together, how can we turn silver into gold?

Yoshiaki Fujimori, president and CEO of GE Japan, sees this demographic challenge as a significant opportunity for GE. “GE needs to take advantage of this challenge, working in partnership with the local government, to provide the technology, leadership and solutions that will help improve the quality of life for the increasing elderly population.”

Though Japan leads the world currently in healthy aged living, they are not alone in facing such a rapid demographic shift. South Korea, Singapore and China are also expected to face similar challenges. Japan has the potential to lead the way in developing systems, services and products catering to what will be an important consumer market.

GE is working with the Japanese government to address the current demographic challenge through the five focus areas of healthymagination.

Advanced diagnostics: GE is working on new technologies and solutions that will help spot disease earlier and therefore lower the cost of chronic care. For example, GE is working on a new imaging agent with PET that will enable doctors to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier and therefore provide the patient with a higher quality of life, for longer.

• More products at more price points: Through healthymagination, GE has invested $3 bln to develop new innovative products that address the specific needs of customers globally. V-scan, the new pocket-sized ultrasound device, is an example of GE’s commitment to bringing innovative solutions to the healthcare industry. This technology will allow doctors to diagnose a problem and get the patient the right treatment sooner, alleviating additional costs of care.

• Information technology: This multibillion-dollar global industry has tremendous potential. Better clinical data is essential to providing better-quality healthcare to more people at a lower cost. With the focus on providing tools for home care, GE can work with Japanese counterparts to develop technologies that enable access to clinical data at home or at the bedside.

Performance Solutions: Japanese healthcare standards need to be streamlined. There is a significant amount of variation in the system as well as improper utilization of staff and assets. Through industrialized techniques such as Lean and Six Sigma, GE can work with the healthcare institutions to provide personalized solutions to improve the quality of care while reducing cost and waste.

• Home Health: With the shift in population toward living longer, healthier lives, there is a strong need to provide portable, wireless technologies that will enable the elderly the independence they deserve, along with the monitoring and disease management they need. Continual innovation in this space is essential for the growing elderly population in Japan as well as around the world.

Although the population in Japan is aging, this does not translate to unhealthy people. In fact, according to Professor Hiroko Akiyama from the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Tokyo, over the next two decades, 40 percent of elderly people in Japan will live on their own. The shift towards home-based care needs to address the social desire for the elderly to lead a higher-quality, active and fulfilling life.

“GE and the Japanese government are working together to provide the technologies and solutions necessary to ensure long-term viability for the healthcare system at home and in the hospital,” said Mike Barber, vice president, GE healthymagination. “We are focused on reducing overall costs while improving the quality of home-based care that are essential to improving the healthcare system.”

“There are two significant areas which Japan can lead in healthcare,” said Jeff Immelt, president and CEO of GE. “Japan is known for its technological innovation, so it seems fitting that the country can help pave the way for a positive future in healthcare IT and home health, specifically addressing the demographic challenge at hand.”

Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of Softbank, a Japanese telecommunications and media corporation, already has some ideas on how Japan can develop a universal healthcare information system. “With the help of the iPad, healthcare information can be leveraged as easily in surgery as it can at home. Increased access to clinical data at all levels of the healthcare system is essential in order to reduce variation and ensure quality care across the system.”