Saturday, March 29, 2008

Medical Services in Korea

I've had an intermittent dull ache in both of my ears for over two weeks. I finally went to the doctor on Thursday, accompanied by a secretary from work. The doctor found no sign of infection and suggested the pain might be stress related. Although the onset of pain corresponds to the beginning of my work in Seoul, I find it odd that my ears are feeling the brunt of my stress.

My diagnosis is not the point of this anecdote. The point is that the Korean medical services industry outshines the American model.

I walked into the ENT office- conveniently located across the street from my school- with no appointment. Now imagine a parallel scene in America:

An individual without an appointment walks into the doctor's office. He/she doesn't need to go to the ER, but just wants something checked- to be on the safe side. The surprised secretary repeats the given information questioningly, "You don't have an appointment?" To not have an appointment is practically unthinkable. The waiting room is already full of people who've been skimming through a mediocre selection of magazines long after they expected their names to be called by the nurse. When was my appointment supposed to be? This is what people in America with doctor's appointments- scheduled months, or even a year in advance- do: they wait. I'm not exactly sure what would happen to that individual. He/she would wait even longer than the scheduled patients? He/she would be turned away?

This is not what happens in Korea. You don't need an appointment to see a doctor; it's not even necessarily expected for most offices. In my case, the preliminaries took less than 5 minutes: my secretary explained my problem and I wrote down my name, cell phone number and address. Then we were thanked and asked to sit down. Just before our conversation stalled and became awkward (around the seven minute mark), a nurse called my name and I saw the doctor. Without health insurance, I had to pay 13 dollars for the visit.

Going to the doctor can be that easy.

Getting prescriptions filled can be similarly hassle-free. The secretary hands you the typed prescription (no worries about messy handwriting!) and you go to the pharmacy. My neighborhood has 5 pharmacies in a 3 block radius. You hand over your prescription and the pharmacist fills it right then. You're on your way in five minutes.

Why would this level of service seem like a miracle in America? Why would most of us be impressed to see our physician at the scheduled time? America probably has the most highly trained medical personnel in the world. It's about time that such excellence spread to the deliverance of medical services.


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