Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seeing a Doctor in Japan

In Japan, you don't make an appointment with a doctor. Instead, you turn up during opening hours and wait. On a good day in a small clinic, the wait may be ten to fifteen minutes. On a not so good one, it can be hours.

Today, I went to see a specialist in Tokyo. While it was only a 15 minute consultation, it became a three day trip. There was a particular doctor I really wanted to see. The hospital where she works opens at six am. The doctors don't start seeing patients at six am, that happens at nine. At six am, the line up begins. A bit like camping out for a new iphone or concert tickets.

Being too early in the morning to leave from Nagoya on the day, I came to Tokyo a day early. Not wanting to check out of the hotel in the early hours of the morning, I stayed an extra night. That's how one short doctor's visit became a three day trip.

As I was already here yesterday, I did a trial run at the hospital. I made sure I knew exactly where it was, how to get there and what to do once I was there in the morning. For about ten minutes due to a small language misunderstanding on my part, I was told that I couldn't come when I had planned. I tried really hard to hold back tears until it was sorted out. At the trial run, I was told that I could wait until eight am to come, but luckily I went at seven instead, as I got ahead on the queue. By the time the doctors began at nine, the ticket machine counted over 120 patients.

With that many patients, their system really does need to be highly organised, to the point that you feel like you're on a conveyor belt. The process today was this;
  • Got a patient number from the ticket machine.
  • Lined up to get a new patients forms.
  • Filled in the forms and handed them in.
  • Waited in a big waiting room to be given my hospital card.
  • Got my hospital card and was sent to the second floor.
  • Waited in a another big waiting room until my number was called.
  • Waited in a smaller waiting room until my number was called again.
  • Saw the doctor for about 15 minutes, which by Japanese standards is very generous.
  • Was sent back to wait in the big waiting room.
  • Was shown to another small waiting room.
  • Had another quick test.
  • Went to a different big waiting room until my number came up on the board.
  • When my number came up, paid at an automatic payment machine, much like one you'd find at a car park.
  • Went back to the big waiting room for my number to flash on another screen.
  • When my number came up again, went to a window where I was given my prescription.

Was in at seven, out by ten. Had a lovely understanding doctor who was most helpful. Not too bad.


ethel and edna's tearoom said...

What a palaver!!!
The question is though, did the doctor sort out what has been wrong with you? Has your mind been put at rest? If that's the case then all the hassle must have been worthwhile/ :o)

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Oh yeh, I should have mentioned that... I'm now on a trial treatment for thyroid problems which will hopefully work. I then have another appointment in a couple of months to review it. She's still not certain that there isn't something else going on as well though, but I'm putting those thoughts away for a while.

But, yes, it was definately worth the trip.

Mike said...

Great story. So Japanese. Hope that all is well...

lina said...

so much effort for a short consultation.
Hope your treatment work!

the englishman said...'s like being at a deli counter...

forsythia said...

Hope you don't mind if I add you to my blogroll. I am still kinda new at blogging, so I don't know if you should ask first. I've been to Japan twice, on short tours, and always wished I could live there awhile.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Thanks Mike, all should be on the mend soon ;)

Hey Lina, it's funny, if I was in Australia, I would have thought so, but finding a kind, understanding doctor in Japan was such a relief. I was ready to go back to Australia and that would have cost so much more. I made sure I had other fun stuff to do in Tokyo as well, so I didn't feel like it was such a waste of time and money.

Hey Englishman, yep, very like the deli counter!

Hey Forsythia, welcome to blogging, and I'd be honoured to be added to your roll.

tamakikat said...

Hi there.

Sorry to hear you had to go to the hospital. Though it sounds as if the doctor you saw was good.

Did you take a book and ipod/a friend? I usually need something to get me through the wait.

Hope you were able to enjoy the delights of Tokyo while you were there.

All the best.


Lisa said...

Wow. That is really amazing. What an adventure, but as you say, cheaper than a trip back to Australia.

Contamination said...

Wow, definitely like being on a factory conveyor belt, your experience at the hospital reminds me so much of my experience getting my drivers licence for the 1st time.

Hopefully it's easy to get a repeat of your prescription.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hey Tamakikat, yep, had lots of reading and writing to keep me entertained while I waited and have to confess, enjoyed the rest of the time in Tokyo.

Hey Lisa, yeh, I seriously thought about going back to Oz many times, but this can take ages to diagnose and treat anywhere in the world, so thought I should put my faith in there being at least one understanding doctor in this country.

Hey Contamination, yep, I'm hoping after the next appointment, she'll write a letter to my usual doc and he'll agree to treat me locally. fingers crossed.

azumarisan said...

You know my MIL has to go to the doctor every week and go through that crap. She suffers with depression and i can't imagine how much damage those waiting rooms do to her. She has to go there at about 7am, and take a bento with her, because it often takes all day to be seen. I think Japan would benefit from an appointment system and i don't know why they don't input it, it would be so much better for the patients health! I can't imagine sitting around waiting rooms all day is very healthy. Luckily you have the gift of patience. :)

magikquilter said...

is the waiting method because of the sheer numbers or a cultural thing? i would think that elderly people and ill people would find it very traumatic. Melanie I have had a severe thyroid problem diagnosed while pregnant with my son 24 years ago....if you would like to chat just email me through my blog or through a comment email. There are a lot of symptoms and strangely enough one of mine was severe chest pain and pins and needles in extremeties.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hey Azumarisan - Oh my! I can't imagine having to go through that every week! That day, I was looking around at all the old people there waiting and felt so sorry for them. The other thing that gets me about doctor's waiting rooms, is all the germs going around, it's so easy to catch anything if your immune system is already low, and the longer you're there, the higher the chance.

Hey magikquilter - I'm really not sure why they don't have an appointment system. Actually it's funny though I was reading on another person's blog how her Japanese mother-in-law often goes to the doctor, and it's more a social outing than an actual visit. A conversation heard in the waiting room one day was "Why isn't so-and-so here today?" "Oh, she must be sick" Priceless! I will email you in a moment!

Mal said...

oh - I hope things are going better. My husband had a surprise sinus infection on our last trip to Tokyo and had really good luck with the medical system there. Actually - for anything major we will probably go back to Tokyo instead of using our health insurance here in the US. Here's his story -

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hey Mal - that's a really interesting post and great to hear that he had such a good experience. I do have to admit, the cost of medical care is quite cheap here. I have insurance so of course it's cheaper, but the visit to the specialist and medicine cost me about $20. In Australia is would have been over $100.

I have also once walked into a doctors office by accident when they were closed and the doctor saw us (my husband was the patient that day) anyway and even sent us off without paying (we went in the next day to pay).

akaiame said...

hope you were alot better after the visit.
in my country(singapore) it's about the same..lolx i went at 8am to pick up my tag and 11am i was out, if i am lucky... lolx

David said...

I thought this was a good description of what one has to go through to see a doctor in Japan. It would help if you told us how much it cost you. Was he a GP or a specialist?

Thank you.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hi David - thanks for the feedback. This was a specialist, hense the effort of travelling all the way to Tokyo. The cost was really cheap, about 2000yen including medicine. I was on the Japanese health care system, so that pays for most of it.

Marius said...

Hello Melanie, I have a question, how is your level of Japanese? The doctor could speak in English? My wife wants to go to the doctor, but neither she or I can speak Japanese well.

Anonymous said...; You saved my day again.