Thursday, November 11, 2010

Visiting the doctor

Because I'm down and out again with a cold I thought I'd tell you about some of the every day things that go on with visiting a doctor in Japan. I've been to him twice in the past two weeks... Tetsu took his mother for a check-up at a major hospital last week... my friend was visiting the doctor this week and we have been talking about the pros and cons. A lot of different viewpoints.

When I went to the local doctor a couple of weeks ago I arrived at his parking lot at about 8:30 AM. Now I know he doesn't open until 9:00 but that was why I went early. With the local doctors you don't make an appointment and so I knew that unless I got there early, I'd be in for a long wait. I was the second one in the parking lot but the other man got out of his truck and went and stood in front of the hospital/clinic door. I decided I felt bad enough that I did NOT want to wait outside in the cold until the nurse unlocked the clinic.

By 9:00 a little group of people had gathered in front of the clinic... all patiently waiting in a line to get in. As soon as the nurse unlocked the door I joined the line... went inside... removed my shoes and put them in a cubby and then put on slippers and went to the registration desk. Since I rarely need to go to the doctor's, I hadn't been there for awhile and needed to fill out a registration form again. I also had to show them my insurance form card and give them the clinic's card that they'd made for me before with my number on it... (if I'd forgotten that the nurse would have to look up my history some other way... I just saved her time.)

While I was waiting I was handed a thermometer and told to take my temperature. This thermometer is to be placed in the armpit... not the mouth. I remember 35 years ago I stuck the thermometer in my mouth and the nurses got very excited about the stupid foreigner!

A short wait, not bad at all! and then I got to see the doctor. He looked in my throat, checked my heart, typed things onto his computer and sent me away. I saw him for about 1 minute if that. Back in the waiting room and I paid some minuscule amount (yesterday it was about $5) and was given a prescription that I took to the pharmacy next door. I paid another $5 for three types of medicine at the pharmacy and then I went home. Until recently, doctors doled out the medications. They had a pharmacist in their office I guess, and the receiving and paying for medication was all done at the receptionist's desk. Recently laws have changed and I have to go next door. (Which sort of seems like an extra step to me since somebody had to build a tiny pharmacy next to the doctor's office and no one but the doctor's patients go to get their prescriptions filled there.)

That's what visiting the local doctor is like.

Now for Tetsu's mother...

Tetsu left home at 6:00 AM to go pick up his mother who lives 30 minutes away. He got to her apartment at 7:00 and together they went to the major university hospital another 30 minutes away. Tetsu's mother had an appointment for between 9:00 and 12:00 that morning... Again, the doctors don't start seeing patients until 9:00 AM but Tetsu said that people were lined up in front of the computers (where you insert your appointment card) and waiting for the computer terminals to open (inside the lobby). He said at 7:30 they were the 47 person in line. Finally at 8:00, the computer terminals opened, they stuck in the card and were sent on over to the doctors window. This is a major hospital so there are walls of windows and rows and rows of benches to sit at. I think they had to register again at the window to let the nurse know that they were there but supposedly the order in which you arrive doesn't matter... at least that is what the nurses tell the pushing crowds trying to put their ticket in the box before everyone else.

Finally around 9:30 Tetsu's mother was called and she went in to see the doctor and tell him what all was wrong with her. She has an ongoing every three month appointment so she figures she needs to tell him everything that has gone wrong the past three months and ask all the questions she can because she won't see him for another three months. Tetsu said the doctor (often a new one each time you go...depending on the day, the doctor's schedules for surgery and such, transfers etc.) did not seem too sympathetic. In less than three minutes they were out of there and back in the waiting room this time to get medicines and pay. In the major hospitals I think this is all done in one whack. Tetsu and his mother were both very happy that they were out of the hospital by 10:30! Sometimes Tetsu's patience level explodes because there are blood tests or eye exams etc. and each involves another hour's wait and they don't get out of the hospital until 2:30 or 3:00. That is par for the course for major hospitals.

And then my friend who went to her local doctor said she evaded the waiting system by asking her husband to drop by the doctor's office on his way to work before 7:30 and place the little card in the box before everyone else. I guess at her doctors the waiting room isn't locked or something. This means that the card got in first and my friend didn't have to sit in the waiting room or the car (like me) or stand in the parking lot. My friend seems to think this is a good system.

Actually I don't like this system because I remember taking Takumi to the doctors when he was a baby and, seeing no one in the waiting room at 9:00, thinking that we would be out of there in a flash. But no... people had brought in their cards, left them and gone back home to do whatever and came back at the approximate time that they thought the doctor would see them. I've had nurses tell me to go ahead and deposit my card and come back in the afternoon since there were so many cards in the box already! With Takumi I remember always thinking that we were the next one up and not getting in to see the doctor until 11:00 or so. And with a crying, sick child, this was miserable!

Or there was the time when Leiya had the chicken pox or something and was feverish. The nurse (who didn't want to have the other patients contaminated) ASKED us to wait out in the car for an hour instead of sit in the waiting room passing our virus onto the others. She kindly came out to the car to let me know Leiya's turn was up.

So. I'm just as happy that I don't get sick very often. Yesterday I beat the system by going to the doctor's at 6:00 PM, just as the nurses were putting out the closed sign... I was in and out in a minute or two, the next door pharmacy people were just checking out the doctor's parking lot to see if they might expect any more patients. Too bad. They had to wait for me.

Back to bed.

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