Visit to Japanese hospitals – 7 things you need to know

Navigating a healthcare system in a foreign country is seldom easy, especially if you don’t know the system or speak the language well. Before you visit Japanese hospitals —on an emergency basis or otherwise—here are seven things you should know:

1. Doctor’s offices and clinics provide primary care; hospitals are for specific procedures, emergencies and high levels of care
Should you go to a hospital instead of a local clinic or doctor’s office? Sure, hospitals are bigger and better equipped, but that doesn’t mean they’re a better choice for treating your injury, illness or condition.

2. Strictly speaking, Japan has no general practitioners or family medicine doctors, just specialists
If you’ve got a skin problem in Japan, you go to a dermatologist; for eye troubles, you’d see an ophthalmologist; and so on. The closest equivalent to a GP here is an internal medicine doctor, but they don’t usually offer general surgery and treatment.

3. Always check the days and open hours of the hospital or clinic you plan to visit
Many university hospitals, for example, are only open for outpatient services from 9 to 11 a.m., and most clinics have a long lunch break from noon to 2 p.m. (on average).

4. Medical services in English and the hours they are available are limited and also often irregular
Moreover, the doctors are frequently the only staff members that can speak English, which makes it difficult to set up appointments and inquire about treatment and billing. (English-speaking Japanese hospitals can be found on the HealthyTOKYO website.)

5. Be prepared for medical emergencies
You never know when you’ll need emergency medical attention. Prepare a list of emergency hospitals and clinics in your area and how to access at the time of emergency. And be aware that not all Japanese hospitals provide emergency care on a 24-hour basis.

6. Check beforehand to see whether the hospital can provide paperwork in English
This will allow you to get reimbursed by your insurance company without having to pay to have the documents translated [and notarized?].

7. Japanese National Health Insurance (NHI) pays 70 percent of the total cost of care at clinics and Japanese hospitals
More than 90 percent of Japanese hospitals and clinics—including dental clinics—accept NHI. NHI provides benefits for the high medical costs associated with surgery and hospitalization, birth allowances and in some cases will even cover overseas medical expenses. If you don’t have NHI, by the way, you’ll be paying the bill in full in cash.

CEO of Japan Health Information Sara Munro

Sara Munro is the CEO of Japan Health Information (JHI)