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Healthcare with the Mail: A Novel Delivery System

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Saturday, May 2, 2015

Take Two Apps and Tell Us How You Feel

A partnership of Apple, IBM and a company called Japan Post plans the in next five years to provide millions of elderly Japanese people with new health services that combine electronic gadgetry and data analysis with personal visits.

Japan Post Ltd. is a government-owned holding company that runs a postal service. It already offers a service called “watch over,” which charges a small fee to have postal employees check up on elderly customers  and report back to their families on how they are doing. The plan is for Japan Post to buy some five million iPads from Apple and distribute them to elderly customers. The iPads will be loaded with apps for scheduling medical appointments, hiring home maintenance professionals, coordinating travel and getting reminders to take medicines, and other “quality of life” apps. When postal employees visit, they will explain how to use the devices and answer any questions about the apps. Japan Post will charge a fee for the service.

As a Fast Company story by Sarah Kessler points out, it’s smart for a company with workers that have daily access to people’s homes delivering mail to expand into elder care. It’s also a good deal for Apple to have a big market for all those iPads. IBM, which is designing the apps, will analyze the data collected through their use.  Customers will be able to share their data with their postal helpers, or have IBM make it anonymous.

Japan Post does more than handle mail. According to its website, it has 24,000 post offices and 195,000 employees—making it Japan’s largest employer. It’s also a bank and an insurance company, and CEO Taizo Nishimuro says it is the biggest life insurer in Japan.  Fast Company reports IBM executives say the data will help identify trends, effectiveness of treatment and medicines, and enable personalized healthcare on an unprecedented scale.

As a Forbes story by Mathew Herper notes, Japan Post already has a massive big-data style collection of health care information, and additional information could help its insurance business by helping customers live longer, healthier and more independent lives.  

Japan has a rapidly aging population; 25 percent of its people are aged 65 or older now, and the population I that age group is expected to grow 40 percent in the next 40 years. A siliconangle story by Collen Kriel reports the global aged population is expected to rise from 11.7 percent to 21 percent by2050.

Would a program of the type planned in Japan work in the U.S.?  Herper of Forbes writes that many pilot studies, including initiatives by Apple and IBM are being tried in the U.S. But he says the U.S. healthcare market is far more fragmented than it is in Japan and no one company has the reach that Japan Post does. In addition, he writes, “trust issues about giving information to insurers are a bigger hurdle in the U.S. than in many other countries.

CEOs of Apple and IBM spoke at a news conference announcing the initiative in Japan. Tim Cook of Apple hailed the prospect of building a useful service that will be scalable around the globe and “put a ding in the universe.”Ginni Rometty of IBM said the service could “re-imagine life” for the largest generation of elderly the world has ever had.  

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