Every winter, people running a fever and complaining of muscle pain swarm the nation's clinics, suspecting one thing: the flu.

An estimated 12 million to 16 million people in Japan come down with the flu every year. When flu season is in full swing, it can sicken as many as 2 million people, including babies and schoolchildren, in just a week, according to the health ministry.

The problem is, patients often get sicker at the very institutions where they seek care, as they wait for minutes or even hours to see a doctor, get a prescription and pay the bill.