Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Five Minutes in a Korean Hospital

My toenail fell off about six months ago. On Monday morning I went to the hospital because the new nail was growing into the side of my toe. The doctor recommended surgery, which would be quick and the ingrowth was "almost guaranteed" not to return. He said I shouldn't worry; it would be cheap.

We scheduled the surgery for the Tuesday morning, and I went to get a shot of antibiotics and an X-Ray to make sure the infection hadn't spread to the bone. I was given a ticket and told to pay on my way out; the bill, including the surgery, antibiotics, X-Ray, and doctor visit, totaled 25,000 won (about 22USD).

This morning I went back to the hospital for my surgery. After a 5 minute wait I was called through the surgery doors and a nurse handed me some floral print pants and shirt. He led me into the operating room, where a team of 5 nurses scrubbed my foot with iodine. The doctor injected several shots of local anaesthetic into my toe, and the heavy numbness crept in and overtook it.

I didn't watch, but I heard the sound of toenail cracking, and after 5 minutes of what sounded like bone being chiseled and pried and filed, I heard him say "Finito. We are finished." He wrapped my toe in gauze. "You will have to pay some extra money for this," he told me quite seriously.

I got another shot of antibiotic and stopped by the payment desk on my way out. The gauze wrap cost me 2,040 won (2USD), bringing the grand total of consultation, injections, X-Rays, and surgery, to 27,040 won (24USD).

Not only was my hospital visit incredibly cheap, it was also extremely efficient. All hospital records are computerized, so my information was sent ahead of me to each office I visited. When I arrived at the Injection Room, for example, the nurse looked at the name on my ticket and pulled up the injection order immediately. I walked around the corner to the X-Ray office and the nurses called my name and told me what they would be doing. At the pharmacy the English-speaking receptionist had my prescriptions printed out and waiting for me.

And although I did have to wait 2+ hours on my initial walk-in visit to see the foot doctor, a computer monitor on the reception desk displayed all of the patient names in the room in the order in which they would be seen. I could easily see where I stood on the list so I could estimate my wait time. When I saw that I was number 7 on the list, I went outside to get some coffee and walk around in the meantime, without worrying that my name would be called in my absence.

Though this is the most serious procedure I've had done, I've received health care in Korea twice before (for an eye infection and a sore neck). In every instance the doctors and attending nurses have been attentive and courteous, the process has been quick and efficient, and the actual service has been world-class.

This whole experience reminds me of, but stands out in stark contrast to, Glenn Beck's raving diatribe on the health care he received for hemorrhoids.

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