Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Health Examination

Japanese health care is generally quite good (Jun Okumura has a good post on it), and my own experiences match that. If you're gainfully employed in Japan for instance, you will have a yearly health check. This may be different from Sweden I believe as I've never had such a check while living there - but then, I've never been a company employee there either so I'm not sure what the case is for normal people. The health check is mandated for every employee, but of course, exactly how that health check is being offer in practice can differ quite a bit depending on the employer. Most examinations I've heard about are fairly slow affairs taking half a day or so.

The health check this year was different - good, but different. I am currently employed through a staffing agency, and they of course have hundreds (or more) people spread out all over the Kansai area that all need this examination. So I get an envelope with directions to a clinic in central Osaka, a health form and a small sealable vial, both to be filled-in beforehand. I expect there to be quite a lot of people so I bring a couple of research papers along to have something to read.

Turns out I needn't have bothered. The place is indeed full of people, but the clinic staffs speed and efficiency would make an F1 pit crew dizzy. We all bring our filled-in form, with a number sequence already printed at the bottom, to the desk with the first number. The polite but oh-so-efficient nurse takes the urine sample ("Mr. Moren, the sample please"), and speeds us to the next desk, the path marked by a tape line. The next one, for weight and height is the same ("Mr. Moren, stand here. Thank you.") - blink - Eyes ("Look in here and read the last line") - blink - blood pressure ("Relax please. Quickly now.") -blink - heart, lungs and waistline ("breathe deeply .. and the tape measure - ahh, you've got metabo!") - blink - EKG ("lie here, lift your shirt") blink - hearing ("press the button when it beeps") - blink - X-ray ("Stand here, breathe in deeply, it's only radiation") - blink - blood test ("just one more vial Mr. Moren, no need to faint yet.") - blink - and... done.

All in all, the whole thing, from entrance to exit (head still spinning), took about 25 minutes. That's less time than I would normally expect to wait before even starting a normal examination. And yet, there was never a hint of sloppiness nor any feeling of it being rushed. Everybody even managed to be bright and pleasant throughout the whole thing (I was there early morning; no idea how that holds up over the day of course). Fun for all. And I certainly prefer spending my time in the lab over a hospital waiting room so I'm certainly not complaining. Kind of makes you wonder why ordinary visits take such amazing amounts of time though.


  1. Herr Morén -

    Your annual medical checkup (kenko shindan) experience is typical. I had mine done this year at the corporate clinic inside the world headquarters of Mitsui. The multi-stage process did not take 25 minutes--but it did not take an hour either.

    Waits become a problem in the event of the development of a serious medical condition or if you need care for a sick child. Specialists, particularly competent pediatricians (there is an appalling number of incompetent ones) attract large numbers of patients, leading to long waits for what turn out to be only the briefest of consultations.

    Then there is emergency room treatment--a whole other world of waiting.

  2. I don't know about pediatric care (last time I had anything to do with that I was too young to remember it), but of course emergency or specialist care is different. It is in Sweden too - and in fact, newspaper reports on unacceptable waiting times for emergency admission, or waiting lines for surgeries, seem to be a perennial favorite topic for newspapers all over the world.

    A good deal of the problem everywhere seems simply to be that too many people use it for conditions that really aren't emergencies. And you can't make it too difficult to go there either, as you'll start losing some real medical emergencies along with people who really shouldn't be there.

    Solution? I have no idea, but the current situation in many places is probably not actually that bad. Emergency personnel triage, and normally those people who really are in an emergency do get care very quickly. Normally. But then, people are people - we fail to plan, we overlook things, we forget, we screw up. Medicine, both on an individual and systemic level, is messy and error-prone.


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