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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Healthcare For Visitors To Japan

Yesterday, I was reading a www.news.com.au article about a 50-year-old Australian guy who was in Japan sampling the skiing in Hokkaido. He went off trail, and then tumbled down an outcrop and broke seven ribs, his knee, finger and his clavicle - the latter snapped clean in half.

He was not given any pain killers when he was found and transported by sled, or in the ambulance... and finally after about four hours in the hospital finally received a pain killer... and then waited for five days before the hospital would operate as they waited for his travel insurance money to clear.

He also complained about the food, but dude, it's a hospital.

Last month, a 22-yearold Australian woman had gone to a doctor in Japan complaining of her leg hurting, showing the doctor a large purple bruise on her thigh... the diagnosis was a problem with her hips. Days later she collapsed on a Tokyo street, dying of a blood clot in her leg. Her hips? Even I know that's a stupid diagnosis, and I'm not a doctor, though I have played one in a blog.

Twenty-five plus years ago, I had my own stomach ailment and went to a Japanese hospital and after much confusing Japanese-English translating they figured I had a stomach bug, and was given multiple packs of a purple powder in a wax paper sachet... still with never-ending diarrhea, I went back a couple of days later and was given an antibiotic... again... multiple packs of a purple powder in a wax sachet. I was told to mix it in water and drink it all down. This time it worked.

I, at least, had my Board of Education bosses with me to help with the translation... and, because I was on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme had the best insurance policy around meaning I could get whatever help I needed immediately... though I still had to pay for the wax sachets myself. $40 or so in total.

If you are going to Japan expecting it to have a world-class hospital industry for the average joe, you are sorely misinformed.

While I am sure that doctors and nurses there are no longer permitted to smoke in the hospitals (I have fond memories of the doctor's lit cigarette dangling from his lower lip, emitting a foul clove smell up into my burning eyes), still.. as you can see above, it's not up there with other first-world countries.

Now... despite that Australian skier having travel insurance, you should know that while it is (and was) accepted, they really do wait until the money clears before they will do anything to help you. Especially you the foreigner.

Please be aware that the only assurance a Japanese hospital will accept is Japanese insurance.

So... unless you can pay up front, do not expect Japanese hospitals to go out of their way to help you.

You can apply to get reimbursed from your own health care provider when you return home...

Now, I shouldn't really dump on the Japanese medical community too much. You can't all be like Canada... which for all of its pratfalls, still provides us all with decent care. You Americans and your ObamaCare... you might think it's crap, but when it's gone, you'll find out just how much better off you were. Good health care Trump(s) all.

In Japan, despite the fact that the kids learn English from Grade 7 through 12... and in some schools it's from Grade 1 and up... in the medical field (doctor, nurse, technician, etc), it's not very often the learned phrase "What do you like sports?" comes up.

I was lucky... my doctor in Japan could speak English - only he wasn't overly confident in it. And only spoke it to me after discussing everything in Japanese to my bosses. Nowadays, with various Apps on cellphones that nearly everyone has (Even I have one now... but I'm just using it as a baseball coach), I am sure a degree of Japanese to English to Japanese discussion can be understood.

IF (CAPS!!!) you have a choice, www.lonelyplanet/japan suggests a University Hospital as your first choice because the doctors have the best chance of speaking English... not to mention it provides the highest level of healthcare... IE, don't go to a hospital in the small city like I did.

Lonely Planet continues:

Larger cities, especially Tokyo, are likely to have clinics that specialize in caring for the foreign community; these will have doctors who speak English but they will be pricey. Most hospitals and clinics will accept walk-in patients in the mornings (usually 8.30am to 11am); be prepared to wait.

Expect to pay about ¥3000 for a simple visit to an outpatient clinic and from around ¥20,000 and upwards for emergency care.


The only experience I ever had with a pharmacy in Japan was when I visited the pharmacy owned by my now late-friend Mr. Maniwa and asked for condoms... and he swore the Japanese condoms would be the same as what I had at home in Toronto, Canada. Don't you believe it... I tried one on and watched it snap and fly off my... uh... watched it fly off and hit my girlfriend Ashley in the face.

After we both stopped laughing, I began crying because it meant no sex for Andrew for a couple of weeks until I could get my mom to ship me a few boxes.

The other time... well... I had that damn stomach bug again, and my friend Kristine went to the pharmacy (Mr. Maniwa's) to get something for me... and since her level of Japanese language skill was very high, she helped save me... just not soon enough before she had to travel back to Shiga-ken some 500 kilometers to the west, meaning Andrew was again crying, as that woman told me 20 years later she would have slept with me. That's a real friend.

As for Ashley, her initial experience with Mr. Maniwa involved him squeezing her butt. It was a nice butt, so I understood... but still.... dude knew I was buying condoms for her (at that time).

Anyhow... Japanese pharmacies have Japanese medications. Don't expect to find "your" brand at a Japanese pharmacy unless you already use a Japanese medication.

They will have an equivalent... and even though it's not really a medication, be aware of the smaller fitting Japanese condoms. Just like the condoms, however, the dosage may be smaller than what you are used to finding back home.

Did you know that Aderall, an ADHD medication is banned in Japan? Yup. Bring your own meds... just not Aderall.

If you have a prescription for a narcotic like codeine, you need a yakkan shōmei certificate for pharmaceuticals.

Click HERE for Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour Welfare website on how medications are classified and how to get a yakkan shōmei certificate.

Better forewarned and forearmed, right?

As for doctors in general... just note that even the worst doctor on the planet still might have got 15% wrong on his Final exams and passed. That's not an excuse, however, just a reality.

Kanpai and stay healthy,
Andrew Joseph

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