Japanese offer mixed views of foreign health care

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

Japanese people who have received medical care overseas have mixed views of other countries’ health systems, according to an online straw poll conducted by The Japan Times.

The Feb. 7 to Feb. 9 poll drew responses from 66 Japanese whose experiences with foreign health care systems spanned 22 countries. They were asked to pick the one country whose health care left the strongest impression and compare its system with Japan’s.

Of the 66 respondents, 21 mentioned experience getting medical care in the United States, seven in Australia, six in Canada, five in the United Kingdom and three each from Malaysia, France and Denmark.

Of total, 24.2 percent said Japan’s health care system was “much better” than the system in the country they cited, while another 24.2 percent said they felt Japan’s system was “slightly worse.”

Meanwhile, 22.7 percent of Japanese rated Japan “slightly better” in health care, followed by 15.2 percent who described the two systems as “about the same.”

Just 13.6 percent said the other nation’s care was “much worse.”

As for the merits of overseas health care services, 25 Japanese (37.9 percent) described them as generally good in quality and affordable, while 24 (36.4 percent) described them as efficient.

As for demerits, 28 (42.4 percent) cited high costs, followed by inefficiency (24 people or 36.4 percent) and complexity (17 people or 25.8 percent).

Eleven (16.7 percent) rated the quality of care in the host country as low.

A Japanese woman in her 40s who sought medical care in the U.S. said she was impressed by its efficiency, including the family doctor system.

The family doctor took enough time to explain the symptoms of her illness and the risks of the medical procedures she faced — something she said she misses in Japan.

“In Japan, it takes a lot of time and effort to find a reliable doctor,” she wrote. “A doctor will only spend up to 10 minutes, while the waiting times are long … I’ve had many experiences in Japan where doctors would explicitly frown upon patients asking questions.”

A woman in her 50s who spent time in the U.K. said she felt no language barrier while seeking medical care there, because she could ask for an interpreter free of charge.

She also finds doctors in Japan hard to approach.

“I feel it’s really considered a taboo in Japan to ask questions to doctors and nurses,” she said.

A woman in her 30s who used health care in Denmark, where services are free, said patients in Japan can easily visit specialists, whereas in Denmark specialists are only accessible if referred by home doctors.

On the other hand, dental care is relatively cheap in Japan, a woman in her 30s who spent time in Australia said.

She said the cost of dental care in Australia, which is not covered by the public insurance system, is about 10 times the level in Japan even for those who have private insurance.

The following are comments on the Japanese health care system made by Japanese who have experience using foreign medical services. Country in parentheses denotes where respondent received care abroad.

“Doctors prescribe drugs for patients in most cases. They don’t recommend that patients buy drugs sold over the counter.”

Woman, 40-49 (United States)

“Too many medical tests are conducted.”

Woman, 50-59 (United States)

“In Japan you can just walk in to see a specialist, such as an ear-nose-throat doctor or a dermatologist, and see the doctor the same day. That’s a luxury. If I become sick with a serious disease, I will get care in Japan.”

Woman, 30-39 (Canada)

“There is a distant relationship between doctors and patients.”

Woman, 30-39 (France)

“Waiting times at hospitals are too long. It takes time to see a doctor because it is difficult to make a reservation.”

Woman, 40-49 (Malaysia)

“There is little explanation about treatment strategy.”

Woman, 40-49 (Australia)

“In Japan, the gap between private hospitals offering low-level care and doctors and hospitals with high levels of expertise seems huge. I wonder if efficiency has been pursued too much, leading to health care that’s cheap but of low quality. I think the system does not reward doctors and nurses who work hard.”

Woman, 50-59 (Germany)