What to do when you get sick in Japan

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  • Lying on the floor, writhing around in considerable agony, I realized for the first time just how far away from home I was. But Medical Care in Japan need not be complicated, and my experience gave me new found motivation.

    I dislike hospitals. Having worked in several in my home country, you’d think the familiarity would be comforting. The truth is, when you’re sick in a country that doesn’t speak your language, everything is terrifying. What began as a regular work day turned into quite the adventure.

    The Good

    One of the benefits of the Japanese healthcare system is Health Insurance. This may differ greatly from travel insurance which you may have as a visitor to Japan, and it allows anyone working in the country to have access to any medical service for anywhere between 20-30% of the total price. A visit to a clinic for the common cold, for example, is unlikely to cost you over 2000 yen for the entire package: consultation and medication.

    Another great thing about the system comes down to the time of emergency. If you need an ambulance- there’s absolutely no charge. Whatever happens to you after you reach a hospital will be on your bill, but the efficient and speedy ride there does not have to play on your mind, or your wallet.

    The Bad

    A difficulty I encountered quite early on during my time here was choosing the correct clinic for my ailment. I’m no doctor, so figuring out exactly what specialist I needed for “a pain here” or “a twinge there” could be a bit confusing. If you get it wrong, the clinic will tell you what clinic you actually need, if any are close by and then you’re off again to fill out the forms and sit in the next waiting room. When you are feeling under the weather, this can seem like a lot of effort.

    The Emergency Process

    If you happen to need to go to a hospital, there are both English and Japanese telephone lines you can call (119). As with most other countries, you will need to provide an address / current location and as much information about you or the sick person’s condition. They will send an ambulance with an emergency medical team to assess you. If you require hospitalization, they will likely ask if you have a preference for which hospital you are taken to (I assume if you are unconscious, they will make the decision for you). At the hospital, you will be taken into the Emergency Assessment Department. In my experience, the staff tried their best to communicate in as much English as possible to put me at ease. I only recommend finding a friend or family member to translate for you when it comes to getting a thorough explanation of test results.

    Overall, my experiences with the Japanese Healthcare system have been positive. Of course, there are English speaking clinics, hospitals and even Western Doctors operating all over Japan if you are willing to pay additional money for this service (health insurance occasionally does not cover Foreign medical specialists).

    Top Tips
    1. Ensure you have Medical Insurance- Travel, Company or National- it will save you time and money in the long run.
    2. Don’t be afraid to ask for any English-speaking staff.
    3. If possible, take someone who can communicate well in Japanese with you, especially for test results.

    Related Articles:

    Emergency Call in Japan

    *Featured Image: jp.fotolia.com/