Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dealing with Medical Needs in Japan

My husband had been wanting to get new glasses for the past several weeks but he wanted me to be along to help him choose frames. Since I've been sick for awhile, we've been putting it off. Today, we finally made it down to one of the local eyeglasses shops so he could get his eyes looked over and buy new glasses. His current pair of glasses is about 14 years old and he could see adequately with them but they were literally falling apart.

Both he and I resist buying new glasses in Japan much more so than we would in the U.S. The primary reason for this is that they are much more expensive here than in the States. They have actually gone down a lot in price compared to over a decade ago but you can still plan on paying 50-100% more in Japan compared to the U.S. My husband bought relatively moderately-priced frames and the cheapest plastic lenses and his cost about $170.

Any time you have some sort of medical issue in Japan, you have a decent chance of running up against the language barrier. Even people who can get by okay conversationally may find that dealing with medical needs is a bit hairy. My husband and I have been exceptionally lucky in this regard since coming to Japan. It seems like we tend to stumble or find a way to access English-speaking professionals every time we need one.

Today's experience with the optician was no exception. The shop had two employees, a man and a woman. The young woman spoke English quite well and handled my husband's exam while the man served me mugi-cha (barley tea) and rushed out to talk to any other customers. It really struck me that this was one of those famous cases of service being better in Japan than in the U.S. These cases are actually far rarer than popular opinion would lead one to believe, particularly when you have a lot of experience with the same type of restaurants average Japanese people frequent and run of the mill stores rather than in the places that specifically cater to foreigners.

My husband and I are both due for a trip to the dentist and made an appointment for a week from today. That is another situation where we've been very fortunate. The dentist we go to is in a clinic in Tokyo Adventist Hospital and he also speaks English as does at least one receptionist who we can make appointments through. Many of my coworkers and friends who have gone to Japanese dentists talk about how they will string out procedures and require the patient to return again and again rather than complete them in a reasonable time. I'm uncertain as to why they do this. The cynical viewpoint would be they try to get you in for as many office visits as possible so they can milk your insurance. The explanation that may be in line with the Japanese character would be that they have been taught that this is a better way to handle dental problems for some reason and no one has ever told them otherwise.

I'm pleased to say that that this sort of stringing along of the patient is not the case at the clinic we go to. Our experiences have always been quite good, or at least as good as a dental appointment can be.

There are dentists in Japan who cater to foreigners specifically but they tend to be extremely pricey and refuse to take the Japanese national health insurance. The same goes for doctors. Fortunately, the Tokyo Adventist Hospital also has English speaking doctors and they take Japanese health insurance. If you're not too far from Ogikubo and dissatisified with your current doctor or dentist, I recommend you consider giving the Tokyo Adventist Hosptial a try.


Luis said...

I go to Nishibori Dental in Sendagaya. It is large, modern, clean and bright (big, 4th-floor window view on trees and such). Nishibori will see you, and speaks English, was trained in the U.S., does a good job, never strings out appointments, and takes National health insurance. I don't think the reception people speak English, but then I never really tried with them. Their number is (03) 3403-8885/6. They also have a Roppongi office.

Shari said...

Thanks for the information Luis. I'm sure it'll be helpful. I think that having a dentist trained in an English-speaking country is hugely helpful.

If Dr. Nemoto ever takes a hike, we'll probably have to ponder a different dentist.