Jul 2, 2019

Comparing Health Care for Kids in Japan and the US

    You can tell that the access to inexpensive healthcare here in Japan has had an effect on me by the way I dropped everything to race my kid to the hospital the day after she had a fever that spiked at 38.5 Degrees Celsius (101.3 F) and disappeared the same day.

    Back home in the states, a disappearing fever would be a reason to rejoice and send the kid back to school. If it were something serious, she wouldn't have lost the fever so quickly, right? Even if the fever held out, we would likely take some over-the-counter meds or go to a clinic at most. We wouldn't head to the hospital for just a low grade fever that's already over.

    But we're in Japan, where we're paid up on our national health insurance, our daughter gets free health care for most situations, including free medical consultations (best enjoyed at a proper pediatric office, the best of which in our area is at the hospital), free medicine as prescribed, and even a discount on parking at the fee-based hospital area parking lots.

    For almost six years, I've been trying to reconcile the ease and lack of expense involved here with my American upbringing, where anything short of excess bleeding or broken bones was treated with bed rest and without a doctor. I remember even being upset with my brother, then a teenager, for asking to be taken to the hospital for lung trouble. It turned out that he had walking pneumonia and it still took years for the realization of the potential seriousness of the illness to overcome my notion that doctors were just too expensive.

Comparing Health Care for Kids in Japan and the US photo
Medicine packets and the pouch they came in, telling us how often to take a packet, in this case three times a day, once after each meal.


    Back in the present day, the Japanese pediatrician at our hospital spoke quickly and in Japanese to my mother-in-law who then could relay anything important to my husband. The only word I absorbed was a katakana rendition of something like "microplasma" that I later came to realize was mycoplasma, meaning mycoplasma pneumoniae, meaning, yes, the walking pneumonia.

    The illness in itself isn't as serious as it sounds provided you get treatment for it, but if left untreated can cause further damage, potentially requiring hospitalization. My kid did get treatment, consisting of literally five different kinds of medicine, all ground into powder and wrapped by individual dose. The powder form is frequently used with kids meds so that they can be easily added to a drink, yogurt, or jelly snack in order to go down more easily. My kid is so used to taking medication that I can pour the powder straight into her mouth, letting her take sips of water or juice between powder packets.

    My kid is recovering though she still has the tail end of a suspicious, deep, wet cough. If she's still coughing by the end of this week, we'll just go back to the doctor.

    You might be asking, "But why didn't you go when she was having her fever?"

One of the drawbacks of the Japanese system is that, at least in our area, not all hospitals are open 24 hours or on weekends or national holidays. In the event of an emergency, whatever hospital you contact will refer you to whichever area hospital can help, as they did when I needed stitches in my hand. Low-grade fevers are not such an emergency as to require this, and the last time we raced to the hospital with a low-grade fever, we ran into a young male doctor who took one look at me and told my husband that whatever problem we had must have been caused by my lax housekeeping and nothing more. When we saw the actual pediatrician the next morning, they said it was a cold that was going around the schools with no comments about housework.

    So, if your kid is sick here, see a doctor, but see the right kind of doctor for the situation.



A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.