Leaders Voice; Words to Inspire | Nikkei special edition

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Harunori Oda(Oda Clinic)

*Information accurate as of time of publication.

Carving out the future of preventive medicine globally

Harunori Oda,
Oda Clinic

Preventive medicine is the first step of treatment

The traditional meaning of preventive medicine was keeping healthy people from getting sick by various practices. By contrast, my thinking is to make preventive medicine a part of treatment itself. Since preventive medicine is medical care before someone is ill, for the sake of building up the body so as not to get sick, it can be seen as the first step of treatment. At the time I decided to go into medicine, I was already interested in the field of preventive medicine, even before I entered university.

In China, prior to entering university, there is a three-year practical training program in the local district where you live. Taken while carrying on daily life with the local people, this program is a means of finding out whether you have what it takes to go on to university as someone aiming to become a physician. If the local people recommend you at the time of completion, you can safely enter university.

As someone with a strong desire to help people suffering from diseases, I turned my attention first of all to the health condition of each of the people in the district. As I engaged with people earnestly, and saw that many people with chronic diseases tended not to get better over time, it occurred to me that preventing people from getting sick in the first place, rather than focusing on repeated treatments after people fall ill, was the only way to reduce the number of sick people.

I therefore decided to learn the basics of preventive medicine approaches, such as boiling herbs and building up immunity. As a result of these efforts, I began to hear from the local people stories like, “I’ve become less prone to illness, and even if I do come down with something, I recover more quickly.” This made me feel all the more keenly the importance of preventive medicine. Successfully obtaining the recommendations of local people, I went ahead full of expectations for preventive medicine, aiming to become active as a physician in Japan.

Harunori Oda(Oda Clinic)

Looking at preventive medicine from a global perspective

Today, patients come to our clinic from China, South Korea and various other countries. Each country differs greatly not only in culture but in their approach to “treatment,” as seen in their different medical care systems. Knowing this, we do our best to determine what patients want based on an understanding of these different backgrounds.

The approach to preventive medicine, in particular, is different in Japan and other countries. One major reason for this is the way the insured medical treatment system works. Japan was early to introduce a health insurance system and make sure it became adopted nationwide. As a system that makes a certain level of medical care consistently available to everyone in the nation, it creates a feeling of assurance; but at the same time, it tends not to breed awareness of seeking treatment above that level. Other countries, on the other hand, have both insured medical treatment and treatment outside of insured care, enabling patients to choose freely, thereby broadening the range of treatments available.

China and South Korea are examples of health-conscious countries, where those who want to make an economic investment can go on to a higher level of treatment, even if it is expensive. From a physician’s standpoint, as well, there is no way to grow by sticking only with insured medical treatment. Aware of this issue from the time I started practice, I was determined to broaden my research into new, more advanced treatment approaches, with an eye on offering treatment not covered by insurance. While immunotherapy has become central to preventive medicine, at the time the clinic was opened, 99% of the time it was used for patients with cancer. Even so, I was encouraged to carry out research for ten or twenty years while communicating the importance of preventive medicine, so that today, the majority of patient visits to the clinic are for prevention.

If Japan sticks with the present system, other countries will continue advancing, opening a widening gap. For Japan to also contribute to the advancement of preventive medicine, the government needs to give greater support for research in areas such as immunotherapy and regenerative medicine. Then Japan must work with other countries, taking advantage of their respective specialties, for preventive medicine to grow on a global scale.

Harunori Oda(Oda Clinic)

Treatment starts from listening carefully to the voice of the patient

When I think about “What makes a good doctor?” based on my practice of medicine for more than twenty years, I believe it is a physician who listens carefully to the other person. The work of a doctor is such that, without being able to communicate with the patient, no treatment can be performed. Everything begins with whether, by exchanging words, you can achieve mutual understanding. Suppose, for example, a patient comes in complaining of a cold.

I have the patient explain the symptoms, and I tell him/her the kind of treatment I will apply in response. When the patient hears that and is convinced it is best, a stress-relieving neurotransmitter is secreted and even affects immune cells. This feeling of consent and relief is part of treatment. Being able to listen to the patient’s complaint and put them at ease with words takes a certain amount of knowledge and experience. In the medical field that continues to advance, ongoing efforts are needed to improve our skills. Never lagging in these efforts and becoming a helping hand to patients, I would like to continue carving out a path to the future of preventive medicine.

Today, research on preventive medicine in Japan still lacks human resources and funds. I will continue raising my voice in calls for assistance from the government. Our goal is to start up in Japan a research center for regenerative medicine like those already established in China. Having it serve as both a research institution and educational institution, I would like to build an open system across borders, enabling widening of the circle from Japan to Asia and the world.