Saturday, December 8, 2012

Korean Healthcare

I've had my first legitimate experience with the Korean healthcare system. Yes, I had my medical check back when I first got here, but that was mandatory and everything was arranged for me. This time, I did everything from setting up the appointment to getting there to figuring out the system all by myself.

Last week, I asked my coworker Michelle how I could go about getting an appointment with a  doctor. Her husband is a doctor, so she asked him where would be the best place for me to go. She gave me a phone number to register and set up an appointment with the International Healthcare Clinic at Seoul National University Hospital. I called Monday morning and after giving some basic information about myself, they set up two appointments for me for Friday morning. One was for the regular doctor so that I could get a referral to see the doctor who could treat my anxiety/depression.

Vague map of how to get to SNUH, Photo Credit: SNUH Website
Yesterday morning, I got up bright and early (7:30am) and headed to Hyehwa station. Once I got there, I headed in the direction of the big sign for the hospital. But, once I was there, I realized it was a massive campus and I had no idea where to go. I was told the clinic was in the "main building" but I wasn't sure if that was the name of the building or just a generic term. I went into the first building I saw (Administration Building) and after tracking down someone who spoke English, they got me on the phone with the clinic. The person on the phone told me I was actually on the University campus and I needed to go to the Hospital. Immediately I freaked out in my mind that I was in the completely wrong place and wouldn't make my appointment time. Then, she explained it is just down the road, and gave me some decent directions.

Finally, I arrived at the right building (which, for the record, is actually called Main Building), went up the escalators, U-turned and headed into the IHC (International Healthcare Clinic). I stood there for about a minute looking around and waiting for a sign to point me where to go. When nothing happened, I approached a row of desks with Koreans typing madly away at computers. I didn't even get a glance for about 20 seconds. Finally, the first girl looks up and points me over to the next girl. I see by her placard on the desk that she is the Russian Coordinator.

She finally looked up and I said I have an appointment. She asked for my ARC and I immediately note that she is perfect for the job: she must relate well to the cold and impersonal Russian stereotype. After some more clicking on the computer, she pointed to some chairs and said they would call my name. Really bad first impression of the staff, for sure. But, the facility was excellent. The building I came in and the clinic I was now in were modern, clean, and technologically advanced. There were computer kiosks with maps on touch screens and interactive check-ins, payments, and prescription stations. Everything was streamlined looking and the place was simply bustling with activity.

Photo Credit: SNUH Website
I only had to wait about 3-4 minutes before the same Russian chick (who was actually Korean, but I called her Russian chick in my head) gets my attention and motions to the other side of the room. She then moves on to do something else, so I am confused where exactly to go. I end up at the desk of another nurse (very friendly) and I just say "Uhm, she pointed me back here?!" I turn around to point at Russian chick, but she is walking over hurriedly to point me into an office room. Ah... Quite annoyed, I muttered something under my breath about giving clear directions, and open the door.

The man seated behind the desk was middle-aged (as best I could tell; Korean age is very difficult for me to interpret), and smiled warmly. I sat down and he asked how he could help me. I was very pleased at his demeanor and began to forgive the clinic of the Russian chick's manner. I explained to him that I was seeking help to deal with the feelings of depression that have been happening since my gigantic life-changing decision to move across the world. He kindly agreed to write me a referral letter and assured me that they have some excellent doctors who can help.

I waited another 5 minutes for the letter, which was put in my file I guess, then the nurse gave me directions to the next floor up to go to the other doctor. I checked in at a desk and then waited. It was very interesting how it was set up. There were many rooms with numbers, and you were told which room to wait by. As soon as one person would come out, the next would go in. The doctors didn't seem to move around between rooms, and you didn't sit in a waiting room for 10 years before seeing the doctor.

I went into my assigned room with very little wait (maybe 10 minutes), and it was set up the same as the previous room, just a desk and two chairs. No examination table. I suppose they have them in the rooms used for actual sick people? I guess neuro isn't something you can just "take a look at"! Anyway, the doctor was a female and as usual, my first question was "do you speak English?" When she said "a little" I got a nervous! But, I guess that was her Korean modest-ness coming through, because she did well. She asked a lot of thorough questions and then told me she would give me a prescription for a week, then, could I come back after a week to see how it was working out? I agreed and the nurse outside showed me to desk to schedule a followup, then they directed me to the payment desk. It was located on the floor below. I thought that was strange, in theory I guess people could be seen and then not actually pay. It was pretty cheap at 16,900 for each appt (I had 2) plus, another 15,000 for a consultation with the second doctor (not sure how that is different from the appointment? but apparently that is standard). Thanks, Korean Healthcare system!

After I paid, I headed back to the IHC to get my prescription, which was entered on my account by the doctor. I guess they use their system for absolutely everything, since I was issued a card which they scanned at every point. That seems handy, no bulky files to lug around and dig up for each and every patient. The nice nurse scanned the paperwork that said I paid at a little kiosk, pressed a few buttons, then asked if I wanted to fill the prescription here or take it somewhere else. She said if I filled it here, it would be about a 30 minute wait. Since I was nervous about being late for work, I took the prescription with me.

I headed back to my area of town with a little time to spare, got a latte, then decided to drop off the prescription at the pharmacy across from my school. When I got there, they looked at it and then said No, they couldn't fill it. He referred me to another pharmacy down the road, which also turned me down when I went in. Finally, I had only 3 minutes to get to school I took it to the pharmacy on the ground floor of my building. He wasn't sure if they could get it, so I just left the paper with him to try to check, gave him my card to call me. I figured I would grab the paper after work at 8pm when I got off, if he couldn't fill it.

At 8pm, I promptly went downstairs to grab the paper, and... they were closed. I was pretty frustrated, since I was supposed to begin the medicine that day. I just decided that in the morning I would come pick it up and get it filled at a pharmacy nearer to a major hospital.

This morning, my alarm went off at 7:30 again, so that I could get up, get the prescription, and get it filled in time to meet Tab for our lunch and movie date. Well, when I got to the pharmacy, the guy tells me "Oh, I couldn't fill it. I gave it to your coworker." I think my jaw literally hit the ground. He gave it to someone ELSE?! I had to clarify that was actually what he meant. "You gave it to someone who was not me?" - Yes. "Who worked with me, you think?" - Yes. "A Korean?" - Yes. Wellllll just great. Now, someone, possibly someone I work with, knows exactly what kind of medication I am taking. Faaaaanntastic. And, I don't have the flipping paper! Tears of frustration welled up in my eyes, and I walked out the door and yelled something not very nice into the bushes. I'm sure I got some strange looks but the blur of the tears in my eyes kept me from noticing much.

Thankfully, my common sense kicked in and told me that I needed to get that paper reprinted ASAP. And, that meant going to the hospital. They closed at noon, so I needed to get my butt moving. I started to look for a bus, but then decided to just grab a cab since I was rather in a hurry and frustrated to boot. Public transportation never helps in times like this.

I have my taxi take me to the hospital, but halfway there we get stopped in traffic. I looked outside my window and saw a subway station that connects to Hyehwa. I decided to ditch the taxi and get back on the subway before my fare (and mood) got much worse.

I finally got to the station and headed to the Main Building. I asked the nearest information person where I could get my prescription printed. She kindly took me to some desk, where another lady printed them out again for me. I was told that if I had gotten the prescription filled then I couldn't have gotten it printed again, so that was a little reassuring that there is some kind of legit system at play. She also showed me a map of the campus and surrounding pharmacies that could fill it for me.

Feeling much relieved, I got my prescription filled quickly and cheaply (2,200W for a week's worth of two medications). They were even packaged neatly into separate packets for each day's dose. Convenient that I don't have to try to read instructions on a little bottle or try to remember if I've taken one day's dose.

my pill packets!
After I finally had the pills in hand, I felt so relieved. It was extremely stressful trying to figure out a brand new system, then get my prescription paper effectively lost and possibly in the hands of my boss, and trek all over Seoul to rectify the situation. I also decided that I would have strong words with that pharmacy tech on Monday about privacy. Unbelievable....

All in all, I would definitely recommend SNUH for their IHC for foreigners, and I am very pleased with the cost of everything. I know it is a little cheaper than what I paid with insurance back home. Well, by the time I return I'm sure that whole system will be an entirely new animal I'll have to learn...

Much more happened today, but I'll leave that to a different blog :)


  1. Chelsea, you sweet thing, what trials you had. You are so brave. I sure hope that your new medication does the trick. I bet it does. Their health system sounds quite efficient. Can't you see getting your prescription written again here? But then the pharmacy wouldn't have given your meds to someone who said she was your coworker.
    Have you thought over my coming in mid April? How are you and Reggie getting along? Take care my sweet. Love ya

  2. Thanks for the memorys . . Love you!!

  3. I guess you can forgive the typos in my previous post. Have a good excuse - I'm tired and basically falling asleep as we speak... Take care - Must admit Im a wee bit tired & concerned
    Now I've explained,I will say 'good night May the fairies continue their good precious pleas - Learning to accept especially those of the saviour " those mysteries of the the Word!


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