MRI on rude and slipshod treatment from Shizuoka hospitals and health care practitioners

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Hi Blog. For all of the positive things about Japan’s near-universal health coverage system, there’s still no accounting for the rude, if not outright exclusionary, treatment that NJ often get from Japan’s health care practitioners. We’ve covered this many times on Debito.org (see several stories here, for example). Here’s another testimonial from a NJ patient I’ll call MRI. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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From: MRI
Subject: Issues with doctors in Shizuoka City
Date: May 6, 2022
To: debito@debito.org

Hello Dr. Arudou, I am another concerned foreigner living here in Japan.

I have been working and living in Shizuoka City for [close to a decade] now. I have not had any serious illnesses other than a mild case of chronic gastritis but in recent years, I know it has become more serious due to my symptoms becoming more severe regardless of the Takecab that I take daily for it. Due to this health issue becoming more serious, I have been needing to visit various clinics and I have been experiencing what I call indirect refusal.

So, I know that in the past, many foreigners were refused medical care due to not having kokumin kenkou hoken but even though I have a valid card, the doctor will always ignore me while I am trying to explain my symptoms and reason for my visit. Both the doctors and staff of various clinics here in Shizuoka City have almost systematically acted cold, uncaring, unresponsive and even downright rude to me.

After this happened the first couple times, I thought it was just that one particular nurse or doctor that was the problem, but after numerous experiences just like this at a number of other clinics, I realized that this is a big problem that needs to be brought to light.

Every time I am waiting in the lobby of a clinic or hospital here in Japan, I have a constant feeling that I am wasting my time and money. I almost always leave a clinic kicking myself because the doctor did indeed do everything they could to avoid helping me.

There have been times where doctors will “do a test” for a couple minutes and then quickly tell me that “I am healthy” and that “there is nothing wrong with me”. When I explain that my symptoms are sometimes terrible, they just laugh it off and tell me that they can prescribe me some medicine. The ineffective “put a band-aid over a shotgun wound” solution it seems.

These experiences have left me completely jaded with regard to the medical care system for foreigners here in Japan. It almost seems as if they couldn’t care less if we become ill and die because we are just foreigners after all. I guess the Hippocratic oath here in Japan only applies if you are of Japanese decent! I find it ironic that the stress of dealing with these doctors in pursuit of treating my health issue is actually causing my health issue to become worse!

My first experience was at Watanabe Clinic (わたなべクリニック) located in Minami-cho just south of Shizuoka Station. When I went to sit down there was a woman that had her handbag sitting on the chair next to me and after I sat down she clutched her handbag and looked at me as if I were some kind of criminal. I merely stated that she doesn’t need to clutch her handbag because I am not a thief. The doctor must have overheard me say this to the woman because he actually wrote down on the referral paper to another doctor that I am “kind of a strange person”. I did not bother reading the referral written in Japanese at the time because I just assumed he wrote a professional referral stating only the facts and the reason why I needed to have an MRI.

Of course, the hospital staff were unusually cold and uncaring toward me and it was a bit confusing during my visit. It wasn’t until I actually read the referral that I realized what he had written down. I was shocked and so was my Japanese girlfriend. She couldn’t understand how a doctor could get away with writing such unprofessional things about someone and not face any trouble for it.

I just experienced another strange occurrence today at a famous gastroenterology clinic here in Shizuoka City called Takano Surgery and Gastroenterology Clinic (高野外科胃腸科医院). This clinic is headed by director Satoshi Takano. Satoshi Takano performed an endoscopy on me 7 years ago and diagnosed me with chronic gastritis. Since then I moved to a different area and I have been receiving my prescription of Takecab from another clinic, which has not been giving me trouble so far since I only go there to pick up refills of my medicine.

So during today’s visit at Takano Surgery and Gastroenterology Clinic, I was trying to explain my worsening symptoms and mentioned that he diagnosed me with chronic gastritis 7 years ago. He looked at the old photos of my endoscopy and said in an irritated tone that I do not have chronic gastritis. Then I presented him a photograph from the endoscopy where he had written that I have gastritis on the backside. Then he let out a sigh and rechecked the photos again and then said that I do have chronic gastritis and that he just did not check all the images closely enough. He didn’t even apologize!

He still had the nerve to act like I was the one being troublesome. He kept trying to rush me and wouldn’t even let me explain my current symptoms. He seemed impatient with me and he kept asking if I want an endoscopy or what and this was before I could even explain my symptoms and get his feedback.

It was busy at the clinic today, but I have experienced doctors and staff rushing me even on days where the clinic was not busy at all. It is as if their mission is to get the foreigner out of the clinic or hospital as quickly as possible without actually seriously addressing their health issues.

So, today I basically paid 1,200yen to have an argument with a xenophobic doctor who was anything but professional.

Another terrible experience was at a clinic here in Shizuoka City called Ohya Hazama Clinic. After I moved to Oya Town, I came to this clinic for an attempt at an endoscopy. Before the endoscopy, I was given anesthetic that was supposed to put me under while he did the procedure. I guess he must not have given me enough because I did not pass out or fall asleep. I remained awake and the staff seemed annoyed by this. They came back into the room with a pillow and a blanket and turned off the light for about 20 minutes and told me to try to fall asleep. Well, I tried but I was unable to do so. Both the doctor and the nurses almost seemed irritated with me. Ridiculous as it sounds, it seems as though they were blaming me not falling asleep from the anesthesia as my fault! The doctor said to me that I can reschedule another day for an endoscopy and I told him that I will do that and left. I never returned there since.

Another wonderful experience I had was at a clinic called Shizuoka ENT Clinic (静岡ENTクリニック). While waiting to be seen by the doctor at this clinic, I noticed how friendly the staff and nurses were with all of the Japanese patients by making eye contact, smiling, answering their questions, thanking them and telling them to take care of themselves.

When it was my turn to go up to the front desk, I received none of the above. All of the staff immediately stopped smiling, they would look down while speaking with me, they seemed annoyed when I asked a couple questions, they seems cold and almost unwilling to even help me. One of them assumed that I couldn’t even speak Japanese and asked me if I could fill out a form and was explaining where I write my name and basic information. The entire experience only lasted a couple minutes but their ignorance and xenophobia was mind blowing.

When I finally had a chance to see the doctor, I explained all this to her. She couldn’t care less of course and just brushed it off. Although this doctor prescribed me the medicine I needed for my sinus infection, the overall experience was so terrible that I will never return there. I feel the same way about these other clinics. I am almost at the point where I feel like I might die of a serious illness such as cancer because none of these doctors seem willing to even look into what is going on in my body. It is a bit ridiculous that as a tax payer here in Japan, I even need to entertain thoughts about returning to my home country just to receive basic health care and visit a doctor that will provide me with proper medical care.

I apologize for the long-winded email, but I read one of your articles and I felt the need to contact you about some of my worst experiences here in Japan. I have even more horror stories than this, but these are the worst of them.
Best Regards, MRI

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12 comments on “MRI on rude and slipshod treatment from Shizuoka hospitals and health care practitioners

  • I have been living in Japan 12 years, 4 in Tokyo and 8 in Kobe. My family and I have visited doctors, clinics, and hospitals of all kinds and sizes. My wife, also a foreigner, had complicated surgery here. I have never, not even once, encountered anything coming close to what is being described here. There are, evidently, language barrier issues, which sometimes make communication difficult. but I’ve always received respectful, mindful, attentive, and caring service when I required medical assistance.

  • I have a different condition but experienced the same treatment.
    Indifference, blaming the patient, condition worsening; your not alone.
    I got lucky and found a physician who lived abroad, perhaps he had experienced some “humanity”
    Yes, modern facility, technology, but if your not Japanese, seems risky to me. Your at somebodys mercy. Ive heard it defended as “risk aversion” but I think its just gaijin aversion.

  • Anonymous says:

    I’m so glad I’m not growing old in Japan. I only went to the hospital twice and a clinic three times, when I lived there, but I’m convinced the staff resented the fact that I was there. Admittedly, my Japanese was at an intermediate level, so maybe they felt that was why I was troublesome. I know the medical staff doesn’t have to take the Hippocratic Oath or some other oath of ethics, but I swear the doctor didn’t want me there, either. I solemnly promise that I will to the best of my ability serve humanity—caring for the sick, promoting good health, and alleviating pain and suffering, or less they’re a troublesome foreigner. My doctor in Canada felt I could have fibromyalgia, and prescribed the related medication for me and when I started to have positive results from those meds he was “tickled pink”, for me. He was genuinely enthusiastic for my results, that was so different from my Japanese experiences.

  • I have also lived in Japan for many years and experienced terrible “treatment” at various clinics and hospitals in Tokyo but I now live on the main island of Okinawa.

    I have not needed to visit a clinic or hospital for anything here, but I am thinking that I might receive better treatment if I visited an English speaking American doctor on one of the US military bases.

    I can speak Japanese well, so I know my poor treatment in Tokyo wasn’t due to a language barrier but due to xenophobia. I have been living here in Japan for years and can speak the lingo, but the majority of the locals sure make me feel like I am the eternal outsider.

    Dan must have been lucky with his visits. I wish I knew which clinics or hospitals he visited and which doctors he visited because although I have also received good treatment at a couple clinics, most of the clinics I visited (a lot of them) did not treat me well at all.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I wanted to say ‘What do you expect?’
    Never mind that racism IS culture, so is misogyny, and link to an article from last month that showed medical schools in Japan admitting that they discriminated against female applicants because (with no sense of irony) female applicants out-performed male applicants in interviews due to having better communication skills.
    And that was a direct quote!
    So, you have a system that priorities patriarchy over the standard of care delivered (which perversely IS it’s imperative). So no wonder male doctors are bad listeners, poor at explaining, and deficient in interpersonal and social skills- they most likely weren’t the best applicants!
    But I can’t post the link to the article I bookmarked- the right wing owned Japanese English language news media is a lap dog rather than a guard dog, and even though the article is recent, the ‘link has expired’, to save the nations blushes.
    If anyone has a link to the article appearing anywhere else, please post it.

  • Jaocnanoni says:

    I have visited multiple clinics and doctors in two different cities during my time here in Japan. The doctors’ behavior towards me can be described as a mixed bag. I would estimate that 2/3 of those I visited treated me with normal decency and respect, professionally providing the service you can expect as a patient. The remaining third is in the category described by MRI. The very worst one was visibly enjoying that I was in pain, which is an unacceptable behavior to me. Other than that he diagnosed me correctly and gave me the correct meds, but the sadistic smug smile at my condition, holy moly. The second worst one, but not far behind the worst, basically kicked me out after a long waiting time because he wanted to go to his lunch break early. Needless to say, he didn’t examine me properly and pulled a diagnosis out of his a*s that didn’t better the condition I was visiting him for. Both these doctors were far into their retirement age. So far, all young doctors were in the group of the decent, professional 2/3. Age seems to play some role here.

  • realitycheck says:

    So Dan and his family have always received `respectful etc` treatment from the Japanese medical system. Great – but many foreigners haven`t so as always in life we have to look at what is the normal pattern instead of the exceptions.
    Anybody who has lived some time in Japan with their eyes open and the refusal to be normalcy biased will note more times than not this kind of behaviour is common. All the `It`s changing` talk from well meaning Japanese and foreigners can`t change the reality. Anti-discrimination laws with bite are the norm in western societies because without those kinds of laws, there is no incentive for racists and bigots on both institutional and personal levels to change.
    It aint coincidence that Japan keeps avoiding making any kinds of effective laws against discrimination both soft and hard. And all this does is encourage the belittling of non Japanese through to the worse forms of discrimination. All this isn`t done in isolation. Those foreigners who were unlucky enough to be freelancers or working for English teaching companies that classify them as independent contractors in order to evade even minor benefits to their workers during the pandemic found themselves denied exemptions or discounted tax and health insurance payments from city halls.
    In the case of those with Japanese partners, it was better but I heard of various accounts of what is nothing but discriminatory behaviour on the part of public officers towards foreigners whose income fell to less than half of what they had earned during normal times but were expected to pay up as if 2020 and 2021 were normal income years. Yet Japanese people on more income were given the Covid-19 exemptions/discounts.
    No Dan and anybody else, this was not due to `language barriers` – those bigoted city hall employees were picking off the low hanging fruit that are foreigners.
    It was easy to deny foreigners even if they understand what their rights are because those same foreigners could not afford legal representation to force those govt employees to follow their own policies. As people without Japanese partners they are considered lesser and in some cases irrelevant although they are tax paying residents.
    Just because those were not my experiences doesn`t mean they didn`t happen and aint happening now.

  • The best course of action that works for me is:
    – First give a chance to the doctor to do a proper visit, ask questions, there may be some honest misunderstandings.
    – If you’re not satisfied with the answers, don’t argue, tell him/her the visit is over and leave without adding another word/bow/gesture, wait outside in the general area for the final paperwork.
    – Go to the customer service, (every big hospital has one), tell them what happened, bad attitude/wrong diagnosis/rushed visit/etc, usually a “concerned tone toward the hospital” works best, ask to be visited by a different doctor.

    Chances are, the person at the counter will talk to the doctor and he/she will ask to see you again with a much different attitude since now there’s a complaint pending and someone looking over.
    If after all said and done you’re still not satisfied, go to your local hokenjo and file a complaint explaining everything that happened.

    Also remember that in Japan, like anywhere else, there are good doctors and bad doctors, I personally avoid the ones with a bad attitude as well the ones who act over-friendly or overexcited when they see a foreigner.
    Going to the doctor is just business and I want a regular visit like anyone else, nothing more but also nothing less.

  • I haven’t had rude treatment in my 25 years in Japan, but the healthcare model is very different from where I come from. Here in Japan I have a physical check up every year as mandated by law but at the end they just give you the results. No doctor ever prescribed medication to fix existing issues, just suggested lifestyle changes.

    Well, it turns out I have hypertension – high blood pressure caused by the fact that my veins are thin. Lifestyle changes will not change that. What was needed was a simple cheap drug that works to expand my veins to normal size. I wouldn’t have known that if not for my very good current Japanese doctor. He charges more than most but he is thorough and he gets results. My blood pressure has been around 75/130 for years now, and I have him to thank. A couple of other issues that had gone unnoticed were brought to my attention and he has controlled them. He might have even bought me an extra decade or two.

    That’s not to take away from what the OP is saying, everyone’s experiences are valid and worth talking about. I agree, that in general, healthcare in Japan could use some different approaches, like being more proactive rather than reactive.

  • @TJJ So I can relate to both you and the OP. I had to go through a whole bunch of terrible experiences with numerous clinics before I found my current regular doctor, who is kind and a good listener (which seems very rare for a doctor here in Japan!).

    I can appreciate that unlike Dan, you can at least understand outside your personal experience, there is a wide world around us and many foreigners undeniably face xenophobia and mistreatment on a daily basis here in Japan and everywhere else in the world.

    But the OP has noticed that this “indirect rejection” as he phrases it, is systematic here in Japan and I fully agree with him on this point.

  • @Jonny
    Yes, understood. With the amount of shitty stuff I have seen happen to foreigners in Japan I guess I must have just been lucky WRT medicine.

  • Hello, this is the guy who wrote the “article” email. I actually wanted to mention about a good clinic so people don’t just think I have nothing but negative experiences here in Japan.

    A couple weeks ago, I visited an ENT called Nagashima Ear here in Shizuoka City and had a really positive experience.

    The staff were all friendly and the doctor was kind and a good listener. He never acted rude and didn’t try to rush me through. He actually spoke calmly and he took his time to properly check out what could be going on with my body during the various health exams.

    I know that most of the people on here live in different areas of Japan, but for those here in Shizuoka City, I highly recommend this place if you need a good ENT.

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