As you should know, I am sick. I try to let as many people as possible know whenever I get a cold, usually without coming right out and saying it. It doesn’t get me out of anything, and it doesn’t make the cold go away faster, so I’m not really sure what I’m doing it for.
Anyway, one thing I had wondered about when I first got a cold in Japan was, “How much does going to the doctor’s cost in Japan?”
I know that in the U.S., it is fairly rare for people to go to the doctor’s for a cold, particularly without health insurance. The wait time, plus the doctor’s bill, adding in the wait and cost of going to the pharmacy is just too much money and time. The attitude in the U.S. seems to be to just rest and have some Robitussin for a cold and wait for it to go away or turn into something nastier, something worth going to the doctor for.
What surprised me here in Japan is that people seem to go to the doctor at the slightest sniffle. I’m not sure, but I think the main reason is that health insurance is mandatory (or at least very close to mandatory) here and, since they are paying for it anyway, may as well take advantage of the services. My Japanese coworkers were equally surprised at how much going to the doctor’s costs in the U.S. and how infrequently people go. I am glad that they convinced me to visit the doctor’s, since the cold was pretty yucky.
I’m currently on the National Health Insurance (Kokumin Kenko Hoken). The monthly fee for being on this insurance varies based on your salary. According to this website, the monthly fee on average is about 4% of your salary, and, based on what I’m paying, I’d say that is fairly accurate.
Now, to describe the doctor’s visit and the doctor visit cost in Japan.
I’d already visited the same small clinic before, about a year ago, so my name was already in the system. But, if your name isn’t in the system, it is possible to register quickly by filling out a simple form with your name and address and other simple questions. Then, the nurse asked me my symptoms and took my temperature. This all took less than five minutes.
After that, I waited about five minutes before I was called into the doctor’s office. In less than five minutes, the doctor had determined that, yes, I did in fact have a cold (he checked my pulse, breathing, and asked about symptoms), and sent me out with a prescription for three medicines: a cough suppressant, an antibiotic, and an aspirin.
Then, no more than five minutes later, I had paid and was heading out to the pharmacy next door to fill my prescriptions. So that was less than twenty minutes spent in the doctor’s office. Since I have National Health Insurance, the total was 1,020 yen (around 12 USD now). With the NHI scheme, the patient pays only 30% of the overall bill, so I suppose that means the bill would have been 3,433 yen (a little over 40 USD) without NHI.
So, going next door to the pharmacy, I had to wait a little bit longer. It took about ten minutes for the prescription to be filled. Without NHI, the bill would have been 2,350 yen for the three medicines, but I only had to pay 30%, which came out to be 710 yen.
I’d say I had a good experience. Everyone was polite and patient, I spent less than 40 minutes for the whole process, and the total came out to just 1,730 yen, which is currently around 20 USD. The last time I went to the doctor’s for a cold, it was about the same.
Of course, each experience is going to be different, and how things go may depend upon the clinic you visit, your level of Japanese, and your reasons for going. For example, although I’ve had great experiences at the small clinic for minor check-ups, I had a not-great experience at a larger hospital when I got the measles shot. I had to wait around two or more hours and ended up paying around 6,500 yen (currently around 78 USD) — I can’t remember, but it may not have been covered by NHI.
In any case, I hope this gives you an idea of how a routine doctor’s visit in Japan might go. I hope you don’t get sick, but if you do, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to check out the doctor’s!