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Doctors & Hospitals for Expats in Japan

Submitted: March 2014

In Japan, doctors and hospitals run along free enterprise lines, though their services are largely financed by social insurance.

Japanese healthcare standards are very high. Treatment will generally be provided with good value for money, though there are some exceptions. In Japan, doctors are highly-trained whereas hospitals may be equipped with the best technology available in the world.

Overall, Japan’s total healthcare expenditures stand at around 9% of GDP, which is below the average among developed countries. As the Japanese population is already one of the oldest in world, this 9% figure is relatively low. Don’t forget, however, that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound a cure. Part of the reason why the Japanese are one of the healthiest people in the world is due to their standards of living.

The Japanese do not necessarily speak fluent English. There are obviously world-class doctors and hospitals in Japan, but English-speaking healthcare may (or may not) be marketed for a higher price. Consequently, you might wish to check these matters in advance.

If you are not happy with the Japanese healthcare system, you can still consider postponing treatment until after you leave Japan. In any event, you must go to a Japanese hospital if you are in an emergency situation.

 

Fees (overview)

The cost of medical treatment in Japan is quite low, especially for complex operations. In such cases, the fees may be up to 75% lower than what you would have in many Western countries.

Technically speaking, the charges are regulated according to a fees schedule, which is set by the Government after negotiations with health professionals. As result, healthcare in Japan can be much cheaper than the US or Hong Kong. Therefore, many US or Hong Kong expats may find it worthwhile to get elective treatment whilst they are in Japan.

Fee waivers may apply for the neediest.

 

Finding a doctor

You should look for a good general practitioner (GP) in your local area as soon as possible. A GP may refer you to a specialist or to a hospital if he believes you need it. It’s perfectly fine if you go straight to a specialist treatment though.

If you can’t speak Japanese, you might wish to use an online directory or the AMDA International Medical Information Centre, which may introduce you to a doctor in your local area. Alternatively, you may ask your embassy for a list of doctors speaking your language in Japan.

Although these services may or may not be covered by social insurance, Japan may be a good place if you have to incur large health expenditures, such as dental care, eye care or any multi-thousand-dollar surgery. Remember that Japan isn’t necessarily an expensive jurisdiction when it comes to healthcare.

Feel free to:

  • check how many doctors and hospitals there are in your local area
  • check their opening hours, and patient feedback/satisfaction rate
  • ask your doctor if he has an out-of-hours service
  • share your experiences with friends of yours, and be open to what they have to say.

Word of mouth can help you determine if a specific doctor or hospital is trustworthy or not. You are always better off knowing in advance who you can trust.

 

Hospital treatment

Be aware that the Japanese overuse their hospitals, so this may put an excessive strain on them. Japanese patients frequently go to walk-in clinics where Westerners would have chosen going to a doctor’s surgery. Many of these clinics are part of the hospital. As a result, you may have to queue a little.

Hospitals must be run by non-profit bodies, and they are managed by physicians. As a rule, patients should not be denied treatment, but the most notable is for emergencies, which may lead to dramatic outcomes. See Health Emergencies for Expats in Japan.

Hospital stays tend to be longer than in other countries. Thus, you should be wary of:

  • any resulting additional hospital daily charges, though they are likely to be moderate
  • higher infection risks (hospitals are a high-risk place)

 

Dental care

In today’s Japan, dental care is covered by social insurance schemes. This comes as part of Japan’s “8020” policy; that is, ensuring that individuals aged 80 have at least 20 teeth.

Certain dental care services, such as orthodontics, are still excluded from the scope of social insurance.

 

Maternity

Japan is part of the Asian countries that combine very low fertility rates and high pregnancy care costs, but you could get worse in Japan’s neighbouring countries. General pregnancy care, including tests, is not covered by Japanese social insurance schemes.

In the case of pregnancy-related diseases however, the Government may help with you with the medical expenses in relation thereto. In addition, discounts for routine prenatal screenings may be provided by your local authority. It is common practice for pregnant women in Japan to attend these check-ups and antenatal classes on a regular basis.

 

Abortion

Abortion is not permitted unless it is made within 24 weeks and you have a valid reason, such as:

  • it is necessary to preserve the mother’s health
  • the woman has become pregnant because of rape or intercourse with a family member of hers
  • any economic or social grounds

Abortion is not permitted for matters such as mental health or a problem with the baby.

Whenever abortion is accepted, this must be made through a surgery. Other techniques, such as pills, are not allowed.

 

Medicines

Some drugs are sold over-the-counter in supermarket chains. Otherwise, you would need to go to a pharmacy with a prescription. Contraception pills require a doctor’s prescription.

 

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We value input from our readers. If you spot an error on this page or have any suggestions, please let us know.

 

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