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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.
Subject: Issues with doctors in Shizuoka City
Date: May 6, 2022
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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