Is healthcare better in Japan?

I was thinking about the reasons why I haven’t gone back to Singapore, and there are a few major ones: (1) I like the weather here, (2) healthcare is far more subsidised here and (3) everything that I like is here.

Apart from the third reason (by the way, ‘everything I like’ means the artistes I follow and the TV shows I watch, pretty much), the other major reasons involve my health. I mention the weather because after moving here I got less infections, and I can only attribute it to the weather (I don’t know if the food and water makes a difference, though).

I’ve never been the healthiest person. Since I was a kid I had all these problems – an irritable bowel, sinus infections, house dust allergies, scoliosis, migraines, muscle aches, temporomandibular joint disorder, chest infections… A host of maladies. I was exempted from NAPFA in secondary school because doing sit-ups made my coccyx (the ‘tailbone’, the bone right at the bottom of your spine) hurt like hell. I didn’t need to be hospitalised and I soon learnt that complaining just tired my friends and telling my mum just incited the reaction of “I have the same problems, just pop some pills”, so I learnt to shut up about my pain and had frequent visits to the doctor. During my internship, my performance evaluation was great but my supervisor decided to give me a B because of all the MCs I had taken. When I started working – my first job was around young children, id est I was always in a germy environment – the admin side was always frustrated with me because I was constantly sick and thus, absent from work.

But I was really sick, all the time, and when I got sick it would be awful. Always some sort of infection in the chest, a really bad cough, headaches – the list goes on.

I got diagnosed with this thing called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) Hypermobility Type in 2013, a few months after my miscarriage. As it turned out, all my illnesses were related. I was never hospitalised for any of them, but I wasn’t putting up an act. I wasn’t a hypochondriac. I was actually sick. (I would spare you the details about EDS, but will add some links at the bottom for those who are interested. My symptoms are mild, i.e. my joints don’t dislocate – they do sublux, however – and I still can do many things, though the chronic pain in many parts of my body is still, well, chronic. I go to sleep in pain and wake up in pain. Intensity varies day to day.)

Because EDS is hereditary, I told my mum – who’s always had similar symptoms, except mine manifested earlier than hers – and said she should get herself checked. Our GP – in Singapore – scoffed and said that EDS is rare and it was unlikely she had it. When she said I was diagnosed with it, he just dismissed it and said it doesn’t mean she has it.

Wow. Okay.

Anyway, it’s not like my faith in Singaporean healthcare was shaken because of one GP. It was more of me appreciating Japanese healthcare much more and being thankful that I am here when I am afflicted with something as debilitating as EDS. Again, it’s not that just because a few doctors believed that I have EDS I am willing to stay here to seek help – it’s more of me being practical. Because I have EDS, it means I get sick a lot. And because I get sick a lot, I have to go to the doctor more often. It just makes sense to be in the country that provides the cheaper option with specialised care.

I’ve never really gone to a GP here. In Japan, specialist doctors set up their own clinics and charge you according to the National Health Insurance rates. This means you have people with very specialised knowledge providing your healthcare. It’s like… when I was a teenager I had to go to Singapore General Hospital every year to get seen by a specialist (probably an orthopaedic surgeon). This was subsidised by the government because I was under the healthcare scheme that provided for students, but the point I’m trying to make is that I had to go to a big hospital to get seen by a specialist.

Over here, specialist care at a big hospital is only involved when you have a particular disease. My EDS, for example, was diagnosed in a big university hospital in Tochigi. What I’m saying is, in Japan, I can walk into ENT clinics, orthopaedic practices etc. to receive treatment unique to those fields without having to go to a major hospital. They’re equipped with the relevant technology, and I don’t have to burn a hole in my pocket. I once had the mother of all headaches and was sent to hospital, and thanks to the health insurance system I pretty much only paid for the MRI.

Because EDS has no cure, many of my treatments are palliative. These means I rely a lot on things like physiotherapy and painkillers, and frequently. The health insurance has a points system – the more often you go, the lesser you pay. Of course, you have the people who outright abuse the system, going to the doctor when they have merely a tiny ailment (these are mainly the elderly, but who’s to say they’re not actually suffering, am I right?). In the grand scheme of things, such welfare isn’t going to last because of the toil it puts on the people supporting it, but from a patient’s point of view, there’s a tremendous comfort in knowing that the financial burden of dealing with a lifelong disease is alleviated thanks to the government.

I’m sure there are fantastic doctors in Singapore, and healthcare might be excellent to whoever’s living there and on the receiving end. But to me, personally – yes, I do think Japan’s healthcare is better. 🙂


Links about EDS:

What EDS is

Youtube video by Simon and Martina explaining chronic pain and EDS

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *