Japan health workers snub COVID-19 database as PM Suga seeks to digitize government

FILE PHOTO: A medical worker watches the ‘Blue-Impulse’ aerobatic team of Japan Air Self-Defense Force

FILE PHOTO: A medical worker watches the ‘Blue-Impulse’ aerobatic team of Japan Air Self-Defense Force as they fly over the Self-Defense Forces Central Hospital to salute the medical workers at the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tokyo, Japan May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese health workers are snubbing the government’s real-time COVID-19 database introduced in the middle of the pandemic to better deal with outbreaks, pointing to hurdles for the new prime minister’s goal of digitising the government.

Just 40% of medical institutions are using the online database known as HER-SYS that was rolled out in May, a health ministry survey showed this week. Respondents complained that the system is too time consuming to use or duplicated work that they still have to do with paper forms and fax machines.

“There is a big shortage of personnel who can cope with this system,” said Satoru Hashimoto, the director of intensive care at the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine.

HER-SYS has a “notorious reputation” for requiring more than 120 fields to be filled in, said Fumie Sakamoto, the infection control manager at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo.

Most hospitals in Tokyo or Osaka, the nations’ biggest metropolitan areas, still haven’t installed it as they have their own systems, she said.

Modernising Japan’s outdated government administration has been a key pledge of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who was elected premier this month. He is aiming to create a new digital agency to lead the charge.

The pandemic has spotlighted those problems, with bureaucratic hang-ups slowing stimulus checks to the public and infection data that are often delayed or inconsistent between regions.

Uptake of HER-SYS has been short of the government’s goal, health ministry official Hiroshi Umeda told reporters on Wednesday. The ministry undertook the survey as a means to improve the system and has asked a working group of experts to advise on how to do so.

“We are trying to accommodate request to make it more easy and convenient,” he said.

Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Michael Perry

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