Living in Japan

What you need to know about going to a Japanese hospital

Going to the hospital in any country is not always pleasant, here's a bit of insight to make your hospital visit a bit more pleasant.

Have you ever wondered what hospitals are like in Japan? In general, public hospitals in Japan are not free and are more difficult to find than private clinics and hospitals. Although Japan’s health system is not free, it has a great advantage because it is efficient and fast. Here we explain some of the most important aspects that you have to take into account when going to a hospital in Japan.

How do hospitals in Japan work?

It is estimated that there are more than 8,500 hospitals in Japan. If you need any medication, there are more than 53,000 pharmacies throughout Japan. Some hospitals require a prior reservation, while in others you can make a reservation when you arrive at the place.

There is no such a thing as general practitioners in Japan, instead people go directly to a specialist who operates in a clinic. There are many different specialists available, so it pays to do your research.

Patients are free to choose which hospitals and doctors they want to go to and medical assistance cannot be denied. Hospitals, by law, must operate as nonprofit businesses. For-profit organizations are prohibited from operating hospitals.

Hospitals in Japan usually have the best facilities and equipment, and they take care of you quickly. Even in large and complete hospitals you have the option of making a reservation and it is usually pretty punctual.

Japanese hospital hours

Many clinics and hospitals in Japan have what would be the equivalent of “9 to 5 work schedule” In other words, you may find them closed in the evenings and on weekends. Although they have the capacity to carry out diagnostic tests, they function in a similar way to a health or primary care center.

If you need medical help outside of the scheduled hours, you have two options. The first option is the emergency clinics open certain hours in the evenings and on weekends. These clinics are for those who need urgent medical help, but nothing too serious.

The second option is the emergencies of the big hospitals, which naturally work 24 hours a day. Like anywhere in the world, emergencies are for those who need immediate medical help in serious cases. If your case is not serious, they may deny you care and refer you to an emergency clinic.

The biggest problem is that the ER clinics are not open at night. Thus, if you need medical attention, you will have to wait a few hours and go to the normal clinic or the emergency clinic if it is the weekend. Another option is that, if you are a regular patient in an emergency hospital, you can call in advance to see if you can be assisted (for example, if you have a sick baby or child and cannot wait until it is open).

English speaking hospitals

If the language barrier is too great and you feel more comfortable speaking English, you can check the English website of JNTO, Japan’s National Tourism Organization. There you will find an exhaustive list of clinics and hospitals where you can be treated in different languages.

In Tokyo there are many hospitals where the staff speaks English. The Tokyo Metropolitan Health and Medical Information Center has patient support services in various foreign languages. To be attended in English, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Spanish, you can call 03-5285-8181 or come in person from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Things to keep in mind

If you have Japanese health insurance, make sure it is accepted before making an appointment. In Japan, all residents are required to pay for health insurance. This medical insurance is known as “kokumin kenkou hoken” (国民健康保険こくみんけんこうほけん) and covers around 70% of all medical expenses of any amount, and even offers the possibility of being reimbursed for high expenses in a hospital.

Apart from paying monthly taxes to the public health system, Japanese citizens pay 30% of their medical bills, which are strictly regulated by the state, so they never become unaffordable.

There is also an insurance that supports medical costs of more than 80,100 yen per month. If the person has an injury or illness and is unable to work and receive wages, they receive 60% of lost wages for up to 1 1/2 years.

Also, keep in mind that if you go to a Japanese hospital, Japanese doctors are usually very generous when it comes to prescribing; it is quite common to leave the clinic with a prescription for five different medications for a simple cold. Make sure you fully understand what you are being prescribed. Antibiotics and cough medicine may be necessary, but other pills might not. Check with your doctor before deciding which medication you need and which one is dispensable.

We hope that all this information helps you to travel or to live in Japan safely and that you do not worry about being treated in a hospital in Japan.

I was born in Malaga (Spain), and after spending a season in Paris and London, my great passion for comics and manga led me to move to Kyoto as a doctoral student in 2018. In my spare time I write short stories and, I am the author of the book Touching the Stars.

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