The recent pandemic of a new type of influenza has made many of us realize how important it is to manage our health and stay in good shape. Especially for those who live in a foreign country, knowing in advance how to get medical help when necessary can be critical, such as where to find doctors who understand foreign languages or where the closest hospital is from home. Dr. Advice explains about organizations who provide useful medical information for foreign residents in Japan.
Meilin It is so hot and humid today. I am very sensitive to the difference of temperature between the air-conditioned room and hot outdoor air. I have to watch myself.
Dr. Advice You have been in Japan for almost three years, right? Have you found a doctor whom you feel comfortable to see when you have a cold or just don't feel good and need some advice?
Meilin Yes, I have found a very nice doctor who runs a private clinic in my neighborhood. It was difficult at first to communicate with him when my Japanese was not good, but I do fine now.
Kim That's good. We have not been able to find a doctor for our family yet.
Dr. Advice I understand that many foreign people want to find doctors and hospitals who understand their languages. There are some organizations who provide medical information services to foreign residents in Japan. Among those, "Himawari," "AMDA International Medical Information Center," and "SHARE" are the ones you and your friends might want to know.
Kim I used Himawari once, which is the medical information service by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. My son got a fever and I called their auto 24/7 computer information service (Tel: 03-5272-0303). You tell what specialty of doctors you need, along with your zip code or the closest station, and the computer finds you clinics or hospitals that are open at the time you call.
Dr. Advice That automatic information service is useful for someone like Kim-san who can speak Japanese very well. For those who understand basic Japanese and want to speak directly to one of their counselors, they can call the same number and reach the counselor on weekdays from 9 AM to 8 PM.
Meilin How about those who don't speak Japanese at all?
Dr. Advice "Himawari" also offers medical information service in five foreign languages from 9 AM to 8 PM everyday (Tel: 03-5285-8181). AMDA International Medical Information Center offers similar consultation service in seven languages on weekdays from 9 AM to 5 PM. SHARE's consultation service is available in English on weekdays from 10 AM to 5 PM and often has Thai-speaking counselors as well. They have a AIDS hotline and can provide medical information in some foreign countries other than Japan (visit the website for details).
Kim Himawari's website is also very useful. You can search their directory of doctors and hospitals who can speak foreign languages. They have listed the availability of as many as 16 different languages, such as Burmese, Russian, and others that are not available for their telephone service.
Dr. Advice The list tells you at what fluency level the doctor can understand the language you select. Their levels are indicated by "a little," "daily conversation," or "fluent."
Meilin Even if their fluency is "a little," it is still a big help for us foreigners if doctors can speak to us in our languages.
Dr. Advice The Metropolitan Government's Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health has a special page, "Medical Information Services for Foreigners," on their website. From the site, you can download a check sheet in five languages (English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, and Thai), in which you can write down key information that help doctors understand your conditions and symptoms.
Meilin What is the check sheet like?
Dr. Advice It is a questionnaire in which you answer questions about your current conditions and medical history. The sheet has an illustration of the body.
Meilin I see. You can use the illustration to point out which part of your body you have problem with.
Kim Besides telephone consultation service, what other activities are AMDA International Medical Information Center and SHARE doing?
Dr. Advice AMDA International Medical Information Center's other focus is to provide medical institutions with the information about foreign patient care. SHARE organizes free on-site health consultations for foreign residents at different locations. The organization sends their counselors to churches and other public places in their communities to answer visitors' questions, check their blood pressure, urine, etc.
Meilin Do they offer any help if anyone finds it necessary to seek further medical treatment?
Dr. Advice The counselors will help them find an appropriate clinic or hospital they can visit while taking into consideration of their language difficulties.
Kim It is a great service that helps ease anxiety about health issues that many foreigners have. I think their service is also helpful to prevent foreigners from getting more serious diseases.
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