Let’s Go to the Hospital: Adventures in Japanese Health Care

First of all, I AM FINE!!!! It wasn’t an Emergency Room visit or anything.

So lately I have had a sore muscle that has not responded to physical therapy. I saw a physical therapist (PT) here in Japan, and my PT in Washington while I was back in the U.S. this summer. I asked my U.S. therapist about maybe getting an MRI in Japan just to see if something obvious came up, and both the U.S. therapist and my doctor in Japan agreed.

So on Friday morning I headed off to Minato Red Cross Hospital for my appointment at the Radiology clinic, referral in hand.

I visited the hospital before with a friend I’ll call Karen. She is undergoing cancer treatment at the hospital, and I have joined her on some of her visits to provide transportation and comic relief. Karen is tough. As in, she rides her bicycle to chemotherapy and radiotherapy tough.

Earlier this week Mark asked to take the car today. I started to say no, I need it to get to my appointment. Then I thought, why do I have to drive? The weather will be nice, it’s about the same distance as home to school, which I cycle several times a week. So following Karen’s lead I cycled over to the hospital, fulling expecting to find designated patient bicycle parking.

And I did.

So I headed in to register, seeking out the English language registration form per Karen’s advice. Found it! I took the form up to the desk and quickly Googled how to say “I don’t have a residence card or Japanese insurance card,” anticipating the first few questions. Sure enough, the desk staff asked that, confirmed that I would pay 100%, then sent me on my way to Radiology on the second floor. I managed all of that in Japanese, and I felt rather proud of myself.

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English language registration form: check!

I wish I could have take a few more photos of the hospital’s interior just to show how organized and well-labeled everything is–but other patients, privacy, etc. It didn’t seem terribly kind to snap photos of people in a hospital. Beforehand I panicked slightly at the thought of finding my way through a Japanese hospital because American ones are always so confusing–and I can actually read the signs in the U.S. Thankfully the Japanese hospital labeled all departments and areas with numbers; the signs used those same numbers, and it looks like walking through a well-labeled train station.

I turned up at the Radiology department check-in desk, and this time I didn’t quite anticipate what questions I would get in Japanese. As I shrugged the universal “I didn’t understand that” while apologizing in Japanese, the clerk reached for a laminated card with statements translated into English. So efficient! I headed back to my changing room and donned my Japanese hospital gown. Following kimono and yukata etiquette, I ensured that the left lapel crossed over the right.

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Left over right, just like a kimono

Then I headed into the fanciest MRI suite I have ever seen. I have had several MRIs in the US, though the last was about 20 years ago. So maybe MRI suites in the US look like this now–but wow. It looked like the interior of a Virgin America airplane cabin, complete with New Age music and changing mood lights. I even got to choose which “movie” I wanted to watch while trying to lay perfectly still for 20 minutes. The movie was projected onto the wall, and I saw it courtesy of the mirrored glasses the technician lowered over my eyes. Scan finished, I changed back into my clothes and headed down to pay.

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SUPER fancy MRI suite! These photos don’t do it justice

Now I didn’t ask in advance how much the MRI would cost, but rather assumed that the cost would be reasonable based on previous experiences with the Japanese health care system. In the U.S. MRIs range from $400 to the thousands of dollars, with the average price around $2600 USD. Hospitals in particular seem to cost more than standalone imaging centers.

My bill? 27,000 yen, or around $240 USD.

One thought on “Let’s Go to the Hospital: Adventures in Japanese Health Care

  1. Pingback: The Hazards of Speaking a Little Japanese, Or That Time That I Told Two Strangers That I Wasn’t Wearing Any Underwear – martayaki

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