Monday, May 10, 2010

Healthcare in Japan

I am puzzled by the health-care system in Japan.

On the face of it everything looks fantastic. Their public hospitals seem to much better than the best private hospitals in India and convey an image of squeaky clean, high-tech efficiency.

But today, after spending the whole day at a hospital for a minor sports injury, I am not so sure.

A judo-related injury had been troubling my wrist for the past two weeks now. I visited the Tsukuba Medical Centre today, just to confirm if the pain was due a fracture of some sort. When I reached TMC at 9:30AM it was humming with activity but nobody would have called it an abnormally crowded day. Yet, it took me 1.5 hours to meet the doctor; 1 hour for the X-rays; 30 mts for the doctor`s diagnosis; 1 hour to pay the bill and - the biggest surprise of all -  2.5 hours of waiting to collect a set of bandages from the prescription shop outside!

There is something seriously wrong here but I`m just not able to pinpoint it.

The break-up of events at the hospital was something like this:
  • 9:30 - Collect the out-patient form, and a token-number at the reception-desk
  • 10:00 - Submit the form. Show Health Insurance card. Told to wait outside consultation rooms 7-8-9.
  • 10:30 - A nurse comes to confirm the ailment details and records them on the OPD form
  • 11:00 - Doctor`s examination; told to go for an X-ray (`Rentogen`) check
  • 11:45 - Enter X-ray taken from four different angles and sent online to the doc
  • 12:20 - Doctor`s diagnosis - no fracture, apply ointment/bandage, avoid strain/judo for two weeks
  • 12:30-13:30 - Waiting to pay the bill (Y 3280 - 30% of actual amount)
  • 13:35-15:40 - Waiting inside the only prescription store (Imagawa Drugstore, opposite Matsumi Park) in the vicinity for a set of four bandages (post-insurance cost - Y750)

At the hospital, it is very unlikely that the delay was caused by tardy staff -- they are as diligent, sincere and helpful as can be. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the National Health Insurance coverage structure encourages people not only to visit the hospitals more frequently for every minor ailment, but also to spend longer time with the doctors seeking advise and consolation.

But the prescription-store is another story altogether. Since each zone had only one place where you can get the prescribed medicines, large companies seem to have monopolized these outlets and deal with patients at their own leisurely pace. Each store has a play area for kids, a separate counter for eye-care, free equipment for blood pressure, free tea dispensers, vending machines, magazines and a flat-screen TV.

Despite having eight staff across the counter, it was 2.5 hours before the token numbers moved from 101 to my number - 131!

This is so out of character in a country where you can set your watch with the train timings...

 Waiting and Imagawa Drugstore, Tsukuba
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