Tuesday, September 19, 2006


It's been a long time since I posted... We had a lovely break during the summer, enjoying a trip to a second island for a few days. I finished the distance class I was doing at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Old Testament, and started work at a new job. We're adapting to a new schedule, seeing a bit less of each other, but hopefully forcing me to get a bit more organized!

Summer is leaving us, the nights are growing cool and we've begun to turn on the floor heat for sleeping. It's nice to have hot water again (we'd turned off the water heater for the summer - cold showers were welcome!) though we're having some plumbing problems and doing our bathing at the bathhouse.

Unfortunately my allergies have been problematic with the cooler air and who knows what else. So, we decided to visit a doctor. Well, I was in for a surprise!! Everything about healthcare is different - and, it seems, better. First of all, there are no "appointments" to see a doctor, you just show up, like a clinic. Except you don't have to wait for hours! With national health insurance (anyone who works, or has a working family member, is covered for a tiny percentage of their salary), it costs about $3 for a visit. Not bad, eh? There are no referrals should you need to see a specialist... in fact, there are no "general practitioners," every doctor is a specialist, so you simply choose the doctor you need to see. It's extremely efficient in all ways I have experienced. When Gordon visited an orthopedist, we were in the door and out in about 45 minutes, during which time he saw the doctor twice, had an x-ray, and physical therapy. Remember, that's with no appointments! I've waited longer than 45 minutes for a scheduled appointment in both the States and Canada.

Hmm... what's different? Well, doctors do spend less time with people, generally only a minute or two - though, they have been very patient and spent much longer than that with us, Gordon translating for me. Yet it is just as complete an examination. People are more knowledgeable about medical terminology and identifying what is wrong, so they simply tell the doctor, "I have allergies," or whatnot. Because every doctor is a specialist, they see a limited range of problems and thus, I presume, are more efficient at diagnosing and prescribing treatment. Is it better to have a one doctor that you see for any illness versus seeing different specialists for different problems? In terms of time and money savings, the latter does seem to work well here.

Medicine is also much cheaper. None is wasted - the doctor prescribed only two days worth for me, and asked me to return and tell him if it was working well or not. Two days later, he changed something, and gave me two more days worth, and so on. Once we found the right medicine, he prescribed more. Of course this is feasible because I can walk to the doctor's office in five minutes (one advantage of living in a city) and see the doctor very quickly and easily. The exact same medicine that cost me over $100 in North America was only a fraction of that here. That's not generic versus brand name, it's the same company, same label... What's going on?? I don't know the details, but I would suggest that whoever is in charge of healthcare in the US take a good look at Korea and find the answer.

No comments: