Medical Exam Data on 50 Million Patients To Be Integrated

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The government plans to build the world’s largest medical examination database, collating records of medical exams and health checkups held by domestic medical institutions by around 2023, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The government aims to create the big data set, comprised of anonymized information on more than 50 million people, to develop new medicines and improve inspection technologies using artificial intelligence (AI), among other purposes, according to sources.

At present, because respective medical institutions anonymize the data they collect, data from patients with multiple diseases are analyzed separately. However, with the envisaged database, all the medical data of a single patient would be integrated, making it possible to analyze conditions that are believed to have strong correlations, such as periodontal disease and diabetes, in an integrated manner and make use of the analyses for treatment.

The database could be useful not only for new drug development but also for investigating the side effects of medicines. Early detection of diseases could become possible by retrieving masses of endoscopic images related to a specific disease from the database and using AI to analyze the images.

The database will be created, as early as the end of this year, by an entity to be designated by the government based on the medical care big data law (see below), which will go into effect in May.

In the beginning, the database will contain information on about 3 million people and the volume of data will increase to cover 50 million people by 2023, the sources said.

The government plans to designate, as early as this autumn, an incorporated body consisting of researchers at universities and others to create the database.

The designated organization is expected to anonymize information collected from medical institutions, schools, health insurance associations and others, offering the information to pharmaceutical companies and research institutions for a fee.

According to the government, while there are overseas databases collecting information such as medical examination results, they only cover information of several million people. Japan is said to have an edge over other countries in the field because its medical institutions have abundant information thanks to the Japanese universal health insurance coverage system.

The government aims to use the database to facilitate the development of advanced technologies and create new industries in the medical field.
However, many people will oppose providing third parties with information directly related to the privacy of individuals.

Therefore, the government intends to decide at a Cabinet meeting, as early as the end of this month, a basic policy for the medical care big data law to provide safety measures for the database and other issues.

In the basic policy, the government will ask medical institutions to have first-visit patients confirm whether they agree to provide their information to third parties. It also plans to require medical institutions to alert patients to the fact that they can refuse the provision of their information even after giving consent.

The designated organization will be asked to establish a secure data management system such as by separating the database and external web servers, as well as utilizing advanced anonymization techniques.

■Medical care big data law
The law regarding anonymized medical data to contribute to research and development in the medical field was established for the purpose of anonymizing medical care information such as medical histories, medication histories and examination results of individuals to allow third parties to utilize the data.


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  • January 30, 2021

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