Recent Improvements in Information Networks for Local Care Services

Nobuo Ono 


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1. Introduction

The new public long-term care (LTC) insurance system that began in April 2000 fundamentally changed how welfare services are provided — care recipients can now choose which services to use rather than be assigned to them. As of June 30, there were approximately 2.5 million approved LTC recipients, an increase of 1.5 million since April. By increasing the number of elderly persons eligible for care, the public LTC insurance system appears to have made a good start.

However, few people can actually take full advantage of the maximum care limits. According to one survey, approximately half of the users are using no more than 40% of their limit. Thus the system is under-utilized.

Reasons given for the low usage include the perceived burden of the 10% deductible charge, and the inadequate stimulation of needs by care managers. But the real problem appears to be a lack of infor-mation on the LTC insurance system and on available services and service providers.

For example, LTC users and their families have scant access to information on local service providers, services, and products offered. On the other side, vendors are poorly informed about the specific daily living needs of elderly and disabled persons. Nor do they know how best to approach their potential market. And care managers, who perform an important mediating role between service providers and users in the LTC insurance framework, cannot make informed decisions regarding LTC service providers or learn about products and services other than those related to LTC insurance.

This situation makes it difficult for care managers to set up effective care plans, and for users to com-pare different vendors. The lack of information thus impairs the smooth operation of LTC insurance for all concerned parties — including users, the general public, service providers, and care managers —thereby impeding the use of related services.

Thus the new public LTC insurance system is in short supply of the lifeblood it needs to function effectively. The remedy is to adopt diverse information media. One effective method is to compile and distribute an informational magazine. However, to accommodate individual long-term care needs, and actually enable users to choose service providers, the only viable alternative for managing massive amounts of welfare related data is to aggressively adopt information technology (IT).

From this perspective, below we examine how to improve the data content and compilation method of local care information systems, focusing on a case study of the Omiya Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s initiative called OIC-Net.

Nobuo Ono

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