Quick and Efficient South Korean Healthcare
She disappears behind a low shelf containing drawers of medications, and I take a seat on one of the cushioned armless benches by the sliding glass doors. A bell tinkles, and a mother and her small son come in and hand over their prescription. The mother hovers by the counter. Vitamin C tablets and five-packs of facemasks clutter around the register.
“Marisa seonnim,” calls the pharmacist, now holding a small white paper bag. She rattles off some directions, and I nod compliantly.
While levels of comfort and expectations differ from what I was used to at home, medical services here are reliable—and cheap.
“2,200 won,” the pharmacist says. I smile at my inside joke. 2,200 won is the equivalent of less than two U.S. dollars. I hand her some green 1,000 won bills and a couple of coins and head out the glass doors.
After three years in Korea, going to the doctor still fascinates me—mostly because of my $4 doctor bill. Furthermore, I can breeze into a clinic and get treated quickly–without an appointment.
In Korea, I have been to a dentist, a dermatologist, an emergency room, a gynecologist, an ENT, a gastroenterologist, and even a pediatrician once (and no, I don’t have a child). While levels of comfort and expectations differ from what I was used to at home, medical services here are reliable—and cheap.
For example, if you have any non-urgent health issues that you always wanted to get sorted out, you might be able to do it quite easily while in Korea. I had always wanted to get a mole removed from my face, but never went through with it because of the hassle and money concerns (during university and before moving to Korea, I was broke. And I was lazy).
Here though, the process went something like this:
I walk into a dermatologist clinic. I place my health insurance booklet on the counter for a receptionist.
She motions for me to sit down. The two receptionists and I quietly watch the TV suspended above the bathroom door.
I skip happily down the steps, thinking of all the other moles I could get removed from my body, just for the sake of it.
Four minutes later the same receptionist calls my name, and stands up to lead me to the doctor’s room, although it is only about ten feet away. Doctor Kim sits at his desk in his office, also where he gives his exams. I sit on the short cushy stool by the end of his desk.
“Anyeonghaseyo,” I bow politely. He just smiles, not unkindly, and crosses his hands. “Long time no see!” I giggle nervously.
“Hello,” he says politely.
“Ah, okay, well I wanted to remove this mole?” I ask timidly. I’ve never known how to start conversations with quiet, expectant doctors.
He lifts up my bangs and gives my mole the once-over.
“Okay,” he says.
“Okay.” He stands up and leads me to another room, and a nurse comes in to swab my face with a cotton ball and alcohol.
Ten minutes and 10,000 won later I wave goodbye to the nurses and go home mole-free. I skip happily down the steps, thinking of all the other moles I could get removed from my body, just for the sake of it.
This is a typical experience for me when visiting a doctor’s clinic. There are differences between larger hospitals and small clinics, (hospitals will generally have a much longer wait), but the process is the same: hand over your health insurance booklet, and wait.
I used to be embarrassed walking into a doctor’s clinic where I had never been before; however, the visit is either way too short to warrant embarrassment, or the doctor is so friendly that it seems like the most natural thing to just walk unexpectedly into your gynecologist’s office (for example).
So now my face is mole-less. My easily irritated tonsils have been medicated, and my behind has been injected. My cavities have been filled, and my sniffles cured. For now I am healthy, though I do think I see the thin glint of acupuncture needles in my future…