First off, I’d like to give a shout out to Joe Cosentino. Hi Joe! This post was originally scheduled to be an interview about the paperback release from Dreamspinner Press of two of Joe’s most popular novellas. The In My Heart anthology brings together An Infatuation and A Shooting Star. Unfortunately, I got sick and have not yet finished reading Joe’s books. I’m currently working on the interview which we’ve rescheduled for later this month but today I decided to deal with my lemons productively and share my experiences with the Japanese health service.
This post will be a quick account of my experience going to Japanese hospital for the benefit of writers who might set their stories in Japan and anyone curious about how healthcare works in Japan. A bit of background. I have lived in Japan for 10+ years, and have fairly decent conversational Japanese. I am employed full-time and enrolled in the National Health Insurance. Usually, when I am sick I go to my local doctor’s clinic. I’m on their files as a patient, so they know my health history etc. A lot like visiting a General Practioner, I imagine! This time, however, I was travelling and didn’t have the option of my local doctor.
My health problems started during my farm stay. I woke one night with an incredibly sore throat. The next night, it was a fever so high it left me shivering. Apart from that, I felt fine! I was able to complete the farm-stay and meet up with my friend in Beppu, only to find myself completely exhausted with a high fever that I couldn’t seem to shake. We continued on to Takeo, and while I didn’t seem to be getting worse, I wasn’t getting better either. When I woke from another night of poor sleep due to sore throat I decided enough was enough. I asked at our hotel desk for clinic recommendations. Instead, the clerk suggested the hospital. I’ve taken other people to the hospital before, but only as an after hours or emergency thing. I wasn’t sure how my sore throat would go down, but as the only clinic in the area looked kind of shady I decided to try the hospital.
Shin-Takeo Hospital might just be the nicest hospital I’ve ever visited. Big, shiny, new, with loads and loads of seating space… Everything about it was nice. Another nice thing was that it was already open when I arrived at 8:30 a.m. Most clinics in Japan open around nine. The receptionist greeted me in English and noted down my symptoms. Since it was my first visit, she made a copy of my Health Insurance Card for their systems and issued my a shiny patient’s card for the hospital. She also took my temperature right there at the desk and when it confirmed I had a fever, sent me to the fever isolation zone. This was a couple of sofas around the corner from the main waiting area with a couple of screens to protect the general populace from me and a salaryman with flu-like symptoms.
After a short wait, and nurse arrived to give me the flu test. This is a swab taken from the nose. It is incredibly invasive and painful and makes your eyes water. I hate it a lot. The results came back quickly. Good news! I tested negative for both strains of flu. The nurse gave me a plastic file of notes and a mask, and sent me to the second floor, general unit.
The second floor was divided up into five units, each with their own waiting area, appointment desk, doctors offices and examination rooms. Although the waiting area was already crowded, I barely had time to unravel my headphones and plug in my podcast before my name was called and I was shown into a doctor’s office. Again, the doctor spoke English! (This does not often happen to me, and it makes a lot of difference to be able to speak in English!) He listened to my symptoms and told me he wanted me to take a flu test. Not having any of this, I searched through my file to show that I’d already taken it. Once was enough! He laughed, apologised and sent me away for blood tests and a throat swab.
There was a common testing area at the centre of the second floor, again with its own waiting room. The requests for my blood tests was handed in and I settled back to wait until my name was called. A nurse confirmed my name and asked me a few basic questions while he prepped me for the blood test. They ended up taking two vials. The throat swab was the worst. Almost as bad as the flu test. However, all was over really quickly and I was sent back to my initial waiting room.
Waiting for my results to come back was the longest part. By now the hospital was very busy. The waiting area was three-quarters full, though it seemed well-staffed with five doctor’s offices to deal with all of us. Most of the patients were elderly and it seemed like they were there for regular check ups.
Once my results came back, I was called into the doctor’s office where he told me I had tonsillitis. My first thought was “I can’t have surgery! I am on holiday!” My thoughts must have shown on my face, because the doctor followed that with “Don’t worry. It’s not the serious kind.” He gave me a prescription of three days worth of antibiotics to kill the tonsillitis and asked me if I wanted to be prescribed painkillers. On hearing I had some of my preferred New Zealand brand with me, he decided to let me medicate with those. I was sent back to the first floor where I gave my file to the paying department and returned to wait. My name was called and I paid, and received a slip for the pharmacy which was just across the car park.
The pharmacy necessitated another wait. Before giving me my medication, the staff checked my health insurance card and talked me through when to take each medication and how much of each to take. My friend picked me up in her car. I arrived at the hospital about 8:30 and I left the pharmacy just shy of three hours later.
My hospital visit came to ¥3000. The medicine was ¥800. The cost is comparable to a clinic visit although depending on time of day and my complaint, I can be out of the clinic in as little as an hour. The total in American dollars was roughly $35 dollars, New Zealand $50 dollars. This amount is heavily subsidized as part of the National Health Insurance scheme, i.e. I only paid 30% of the actual cost. However, I do pay into the NHI an amount that is determined by my annual income and the tax rates of the town I live in. Although there are aspects of the Japanese Health system I don’t like, I found my first hospital visit a really positive experience and am happy with the level of health care I received.