Okinawa centre tackles language barriers for healthcare

Okinawa has set up a multilingual contact centre to overcome language problems for visitors seeking healthcare.

Okinawa Prefecture has opened the “Okinawa Inbound Medical Interpretation Contact Centre” to provide interpretation by phone at hospitals where communication with foreign tourists is an issue.

Travel agents and hospitals can get interpreter service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by calling the centre. The aim is to alleviate the burden on healthcare workers at the 1,000 local hospitals and offer a hospitable environment for foreigners.

The centre supports interpretations in six languages including English, Chinese, and Korean. There is no charge for the service aside from the rate for a telephone call. The centre only provides the number to tourist enterprises such as hotels, tourist facilities, hospitals, and fire authorities.

In 2017, Okinawa had 2.54 million foreign tourists, so demand for medical help rose. In a field trial at 16 medical intuitions in 2016, most foreigners’ medical needs were for mild symptoms such as colds and minor injuries.

While it is not targeted at medical tourists, the concept could be useful, as a key reason medical tourists avoid Japan is language problems. Boosted by the weak yen and relaxed visa conditions, the number of foreigners visiting Japan has been increasing. View further IMTJ analysis of medical tourism to Japan.