Navigating Japan’s Healthcare System

Joshua having an accident and getting 2nd degree burns all down his left arm while we were camping on vacation was certainly not in our list of things to do. It’s hard enough to know what to do in a situation like that if you’re in your home country, but we were figuring it all out in a foreign language and country whose healthcare system is not familiar. Many thing Americans are used in the USA are not available anywhere else in the world, and we soon found out that’s true for Japan as well.

We were glad that Japan’s emergency response was really good, that made a big difference of getting Joshua’s burn under control. But if you know anything about burns, you know the treatment that one receives can make the difference in avoiding future scarring or even surgery. We certainly didn’t want that for Joshua. The poor guy had suffered enough.

Trying to navigate the waters of the Japanese healthcare system was honestly a bit overwhelming. The first day after Joshua’s accident, we went to the local hospital to get treatment, and they did their best to change his bandages, but honestly the treatment left us feeling uneasy. We soon found out why.

One of our friends from church heard about Joshua’s situation, and as a professional in a medical field, he began to research the best burn treatment in our area. He understands the Japanese medical system and knew that hospitals cannot advertise their expertise in certain fields. It was up to an individual to find that out! We as foreigners would have very little hope of figuring it out, but he went to battle for us.

Turns out that our local hospital didn’t have a single burn specialist on staff. Not only that, but the leading children’s hospital in Japan didn’t even have one on staff! Things we really looking bleak.

He continued to call around until he came upon a local clinic of a plastic surgeon whose doctor specialized in burns. He called the receptionist and found out the doctor was not taking any new patients. The doctor just happened to be overhearing the conversation and asked to speak to our friend, who explained Joshua’s situation. The doctor said “I’ll make space, bring Joshua in right away.”

So we went, and the doctor treated Joshua so well that he didn’t even scream when they changed his bandage and cleaned his wound. Immediately our hearts were at ease — this was the treatment that would help him recover. Until then the doctors had been talking about possible skin grafts and were only changing his bandages every other day, but the specialist seemed to think that with proper care and changing the bandages everyday the skin should heal without any issues.

We certainly would not want to pass through that experience again. But having passed through it, we can offer this helpful insight for those who may have to do the same thing in the future. Here is what we learned from navigating Japan’s medical system.

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