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Health Care System in South Korea: Good or Bad?

Updated on December 1, 2011

Going to the doctor in South Korea is a completely different experience than going back in the United States. Back home, we're used to having to make appointments, sometimes months in advance, wait in the waiting room for an hour or more, then wait again in the actual exam room, with a final touch of emptying our pockets for the exam fee or copay. All of these things are frustrating and make your experience of going to the doctor's office a negative one. None of us want to see a doctor to begin with, usually in fear of what will be discovered, but we know that many times we have to. What can be even more frustrating is having to go see one doctor just to get a referral to go see another. So, we make our appointments and know that we must set aside a few hours for the ordeal.

Now, what I've listed are the negatives of our health care system back home. But what about the positives? Well, since being in Korea, I have now realized that there are positives to going to the doctor back home. These positives will be discovered once reading through my experiences of going to the doctors here (in Korea).

I had a cough that just wouldn't go away. I have health coverage since I am a teacher here, so I figured, maybe I should pay a visit to the doctor. My first time going to the doctor, I went in, handed them my insurance papers, and they told me to wait. I waited for 5 minutes before getting called in to the exam room and I thought, "Wow! This is great!" I was immediately in the room with the doctor. She asked me what was wrong and how long I've had the cough for. Without any examination, she prescribed me medication and I was on my way out of the room. I then went to the receptionist to pay my exam fee, which turned out to only be $2! After paying, I proceeded downstairs to the pharmacy, handed them my prescription, and only waited another 5 minutes to receive my medication. Great system, right? I'm not so sure about that anymore.

When the medication didn't work, and the cough continued, I went back to see the same doctor. Again, without any examination on her part, she prescribed me new medication. I was in and out of her office in 5 minutes. I went downstairs, picked it up, and tried it for 3 days. It still didn't go away.

I went back one more time. I told her that the medicine didn't work and the cough was getting worse. She then prescribed me new medication once more. I picked it up, tried it, and finally, my cough went away.

Another time, I had a sore throat for about 10 days and decided to go to the doctor again. I go to see the same lady and explain what I was feeling and how long it had been going on. This time she actually took a light and looked at the back of my throat. All she said was, "It's red." Once again, she prescribed me medication and I was out the door.

About a month later, I was very nauseous for a few days and knew I needed to take something to start feeling better. Being nauseous every day for a couple of days time is not fun and I wanted it to go away. This time I went to another doctor because the other office was closed. He said I had gastroenteritis, prescribed me medication and gave me a shot in the butt (first time I had that, it really hurts!). Come to think of it now, I had been told I had gastroenteritis before back home and I was never given any medication for it. I was told that it needed to run its course and that I would be fine in a few days.

Another time I needed to go to a gastroenterologist (a specialist). I was having some problems that I figured I needed to see a specialist to find out what was going on. I went to the office and only waited for about 15 minutes. When I went in to see the doctor, he did a bit more of a thorough exam. He told me that he would prescribe me a weeks worth of medication and if it didn't help, that I should come back and they would have to put a camera down into my stomach to see what was going on. A camera? I'm sorry, shouldn't there be x-rays done, or something else, first? I don't feel that a camera would've been necessary unless he checked me in other ways before that. I honestly don't believe that a gastroenterologist back home would've suggested the same.

Think Korea is prescription happy?

There were about 2 more times that I had to go to the doctor since being here (keep in mind that I'm a teacher in a new country, constantly being exposed to new germs), and every time it was the same experience.

I think it's great to not have to wait forever to see a doctor. I also think it's great to not need an appointment. But I don't agree with being handed medication left and right, especially without a thorough exam. I don't feel that any of the doctors (aside from the specialist) really took the time to check me. I also believe that I've been handed antibiotics a few times for things that I did not need antibiotics for.

I will now return to my previous point. Is going to the doctor back home that bad? Sure, there are some things that we would like to change to make our experiences better, but now that I've experienced health care in another country, I think that doctors in the U.S. are a lot more thorough and don't always hand out medications if they don't think that you need any. Of course there are doctors who do, but I still think that overall, I would much rather go to a doctor back home to feel better about the treatment that I am getting.

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    • Christy Marie007 profile image

      Christina Dunkin 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I used to teach in South Korea, and I only went to the doctor to get zoloft (in which he almost sent me to a psychiatrist for until I told him it was for PMDD:P) Like you, I don't recall spending a long time with the doctor, but then I don't spend much time with the doctor in the States for zoloft.

      Are they this quick with Korean patients? I wonder if part of the problem is the language barrier. I mean, being "English-speaking" and conversationally fluent doesn't mean that many of the English speaking Korean doctors can discuss in detail what they're thinking as far as a medical diagnosis goes like a native English-speaking doctor could.

    • CALNY profile image
      Author

      CALNY 4 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      I've somewhat taken advantage of having health coverage here. I don't think I've ever visited doctors so much back home. Even though I don't approve of the manner by which they go about treating, I still can't get over the fact that a doctor's visit costs around $3 and medicine is about the same!

      I think that's quite possible that they rush us out because of the language barrier. Then again, when I've been to the hospital, it seems as though the patients are in and out quickly, even when they're Korean. Who knows. Maybe it's just a cultural difference. Back home we like to feel comfortable with our doctors and we like when they pay close attention and don't rush us out. Here, maybe they just figure everyone only comes to the doctor for medicine and that's it. I still don't agree with the lack of examinations though. Medicine gets handed out with only so much as a glance at the problem most of the time.

    • Saneesh Parambath profile image

      Saneesh Parambath 3 years ago

      Hi Calny, Good to see health care experience being shared. I believe this problem is similar to what we have in India.

      Here the problem is not systemic but its only related to the process. To explain more deeper, the Doctors and their diagnosis or their knowledge is really at par or even better in Korea (or India) compare to the West. The issue is more related to adoption of technology and methodologies (processes). In India we are working on Kemedy.com which is streamlining the experience between Patient and Doctor. Would like to see more comments from you about Healthcare in Korea. It can turn out to be a learning for us as we have similar problems.

      Thanks

      Saneesh

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