Barriers to International Telemedicine Conferencing: A Survey of the National University Hospital Council of Japan

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Abstract

Background: Telemedicine conferencing is expected to become commonly used internationally. However, national reports on internationally related telemedicine are limited, and related activities and challenges in each country are unclear. In this study, we aimed to clarify the current status and barriers to international telemedicine conferencing in Japan. Methods: The questionnaire was sent to the Internationalization Project Team (I-PT) representatives in all 43 Japanese National University Hospitals. The total of 167 assigned staff comprised 86 medical staff in charge of internationalization (MI) and 81 technical staff in telemedicine (TT). Results: The response rate was 93% (40/43 universities) from 88 staff (44 MI and 44 TT). Most respondents (75%) stated that they had not been active in international telemedicine conferencing during the past 3 years, although a videoconferencing system was installed in 93% of universities. A total of 65% respondents felt that barriers to promoting telemedicine and conferencing existed. Most (43%) respondents reported staff shortage as the most serious barrier overall. Five TT (19%) felt that the most serious barrier was difficulty with English communication, although no MI selected this as a barrier. More MI than TT felt that technical issues were the most serious barrier (MI: 4/29, TT: 1/27). Conclusions: International telemedicine conferencing was found to be insufficiently active in I-PT of Japan, although the installed equipment and technical expertise of TT seemed adequate. This indicates that merely assigning MI and TT to an I-PT is not enough and that improved cooperation between both MI and TT at each university hospital is needed. Establishment of a structured international telemedicine center in each university hospital is to be suggested to accelerate the activities in Japan.

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