Monday, February 23, 2009

Last Shout Out to the Korean Medical System

Here I am at my hospital, Hanyang University Hospital. I'm going through a series of regular tests. Being an insulin dependent diabetic and having Graves' Disease (a thyroid disorder) means I've got more tests than usual to take on a yearly basis. I got here a few minutes late for my 9:40am OB/GYN appointment. But, in spite of running five minutes behind, it's been smooth sailing.

My OB/GYN was female, as I requested, and her English was pretty decent. She talked me through the exam and caught that I'd not had a mammogram in over five years. It was time for another one. The nurse sped me off to pay for the exam and then took me to the exam room. The exam tech was really friendly and was honest that it was going to hurt. It did. Ouch.

I have my final appointment with my endocrinologist tomorrow, so I had to go to give them what they needed for a bunch of lab tests. Then it was off to my scheduled eye exam. For those that don't know, diabetes wreaks havoc on your blood vessels, internal organs and also messes with your heart. That's why it's really important for diabetics to keep their blood sugars in as normal a range as possible. As a result, diabetics ought to do yearly eye exams. Not just the ones where you look at a chart but the unpleasant one that requires your pupils to be dilated. That way the doctor can literally get a good look inside to see if there is any diabetic retinopathy (eye damage from diabetes).

Right now, that's the phase I'm in. My pupils are dilating, and I've got to refocus every minute or so because I'm sitting here typing on my laptop.

So, for those that don't know, it's worth saying again. At least on the university hospital level, medical care here is modern, affordable and efficient. Like any system, there are frustrations and glitches. It's not perfect. I went to one clinic that really did cut corners to the point that all I did was walk in, say what I needed and walked out with a prescription. That's dangerous. Also, a lot of doctors here have a God-complex, so their listening skills aren't the greatest. They're not really used to a pro-active patient.. They're much more used to telling a patient what's wrong with them and not being questioned. In contrast, I'm the sort of person who gets out and does the research so I know a fair bit about the latest research regarding the two conditions I have. Those are the most irritating points, but there are doctors with God-complexes back home. At least here I can afford to see a doctor.

As a whole, the system is much easier to navigate and much more accessible in terms of cost. The worst thing would be communication issues. If you don't speak Korean, it can be a problem. If you speak Korean, it can be frustrating because almost everyone assumes you've got no clue. Today I had a doctor express pure shock that I could read her name in Hangul even though she could see from my chart that I'd been here for a few years. (I'm sorry but how dumb must a person be to not know how to read Korean after being here that long?) However, I've learned to just smile, realize they're doing their best and try not to take things at more than face value. It's worked well for me. I've blogged about having a scratched cornea and having excellent service. I've blogged about other positive experiences here as well. Being someone with experience in both the US and Korean health care systems, I've got to say Korea slays the US in terms of accessibility. When I was at Ewha, I didn't have the public health insurance card and I could afford to pay out of pocket for my medical exams, tests and medicines. I could never afford that out of pocket in the States for two years. I truly think the US system is a travesty. How can such a developed nation have so many people who don't have access to basic health care?

With that said, I'm not looking forward to wandering back into the morass that is the US medical system, especially in this crap economy. However, it comes with going home and having two chronic conditions to manage. The fact is, I can't avoid it even if I wanted to.

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