In Japan it is nearly impossible to get prescriptions for medications for longer than one month at a time. This is to make sure you are only getting medicine you need and that people aren’t abusing their prescriptions, but for someone who has been taking the same hormone and thyroid medications for six years it can feel like quite the unnecessary hassle.
Today was my monthly visit to the local English-speaking clinic. I am incredibly lucky to live two minutes from an English-speaking doctor, especially an English-speaking doctor who spends half his week teaching at Kyoto University. For the most part I can trust the advice he gives me, even if we sometimes have a little back and forth about my weight.
The way the clinic here works is a little bit different from the doctors offices I’m familiar with in the US, so I decided to write about that today.
Walking into the clinic, the first thing you have to do is sign in on the sheet and give them your card for the clinic if you already have one. The card is what they clip to your file and use to keep everything organized. They also can use it to give reminders back to you. For example, when I got my card back today it had a note stuck on it saying “You must see the doctor again next time” so that I don’t “forget” and try to convince them just to give me the prescriptions without talking to the doctor.
Not that I’ve ever done that.
After signing in you take your blood pressure yourself with a little machine and take the printed receipt back to the nurse. Eventually they call your name and you go up to the front of the waiting room and talk to the nurse about any symptoms you’re having. This is also the time they check your insurance information.
One thing that is very different from the US is all of this preliminary stuff is done in the waiting room with everyone else. It can be a little awkward, and a little cramped and germy during flu season, but it allows the building to be much smaller than US clinics and it keeps the process moving at a certain pace.
Around this time they usually call me back and take my weight. This is not done for everyone, but my doctor is ~concerned~ and checks my weight every month to see if there are any changes.
Eventually they have you move into a second waiting room outside the exam room. This room is, in my local clinic, just a hallway.
Soon enough you are in to see the doctor. Today we looked at my blood test results from last month. He told me he was concerned I gained 1kg (2lbs). I told him it’s perfectly normal for me to change 1kg up or down from day-to-day, let alone from month to month. I told him I feel like my hair is thinning. He told me that happens to most people when they come to Japan.
After meeting with the doctor it’s back out into the waiting room until you’re called up to pay and get your prescription. They also return your patient card to you at this time. The paper prescriptions can then be brought to any pharmacy, ideally along with your pharmacy booklet which shows the pharmacist what medications you have received from which pharmacies and when. (Although if you forget your pharmacy booklet they will still give you the medication after giving you a little bit of a hard time… not that I’ve even done that, either.)
While I am very lucky to have a pharmacy and an English-speaking doctor 200 yards from my house, I can’t say I will miss the need for monthly visits. Sometimes, especially during flu season, it can take up to 3 hours to get my prescription as there are no appointments, only walk-ins. On one hand it’s nice to have a monthly reassurance that I’m healthy, but really I’d rather same the time and money and get back in on that 3 month+ prescription action in the US.