I care about health care

Posted by in Mike's blog

I am sick.

We had a rude awakening to the challenges facing foreigners in Japan and our access to health care on our 3rd day in Fukui. The bunny got her finger caught in the mailbox and she got a cut. It wasn’t the kind of cut that a band-aid would fix, so I called 1-1-9 for help. An ambulance came, and after the paramedics spent ~5 minutes looking through dictionaries while the bunny screamed at them they started driving to a hospital. After that day and subsequent visits she got 4 stitches and an immense dislike for white rooms and lab coats. She was teething at the time as well…it wasn’t pretty.

The doctors we met at that time spoke varying degrees of English. Having to wait an extra few minutes for doctors to find translations on their iPhones became common, and we learned, among other things, that “suppository” doesn’t translate very well.

There are all kinds of differences between the Japanese and Canadian health care systems. Payment was a big deal for us at first. Most people (I think) qualify for national health insurance and it covers 70% of all health care costs. Since we were new in Fukui at that point we hadn’t been issued our health insurance cards (hoken-sho) yet. We had to pay out of pocket for everything. It hurt, but not nearly as bad as what Americans have to deal with. We got all the money back after we got our cards 1 month later. Even better: The bunny gets a supplementary health insurance because she lives in Fukui and she’s a kid. That extra 30% is taken care of by the local government.

In Canada, we go to the doctor when we’re sick, right? In Japan, it’s a little more complicated. General practitioners either don’t exist or they are super-rare, so there is a system of specialists in place. If my stomach hurts, I’ll go to a different doctor than I would if i sprained my ankle, and a different doctor still if anything has to do with the bunny. For foreigners, learning to navigate this system can be tough, especially for those of us who don’t understand Japanese. This leaves a gaping hole in health care access even for the most resourceful. I like to think of myself as fairly capable at solving problems like this, but health care here kept leaving me guessing about what to do.

So I got help. This looks like a job for SOCIAL WORK!

After doing a bunch of digging I came across Japan Healthcare Info (JHI). This service gives clients access to a medical social worker who will do detailed research about available health care practitioners anywhere in Japan who speak English. They also make appointments, talk with practitioners (when needed), TRANSLATE PAPERWORK, and they do some interpreting over the phone. I decided to try JHI out for myself, and the service is fantastic. It’s not free, but for newly arrived foreigners with kids, dare I say JHI is indispensable. Perhaps this time next year my Japanese will have improved to the point where I don’t need help anymore, but for now the time that I’ve saved by getting help with the medical things that have come up has made the cost well worth it.

I’m sure I’ll get better soon. Today JHI got me an appointment with an english speaking doctor 100m from my apartment within 15 minutes of my call. I didn’t tell the JHI lady that it was an emergency, she’s just fast at what she does. The doctor I saw wasn’t the right specialist, but he agreed to see me with my symptoms so we could rule out the flu.

As it turns out I just have a cold and I’m a wimp…but I’m a wimp with access to health care.