Banter from Brabant

Friday, July 20, 2007

Health Care Systems

I recently had to see a doctor (nothing serious) and I must say it was a very interesting experience. My appointment was at 9:00am and I was instructed to arrive early to fill out paperwork given that it was my first visit. I arrived about 10 minutes early to find that the receptionist was not yet in the office. A couple of other people had arrived before me and naturally, we queued up in the order we arrived. The receptionist arrived about 5 minutes late – 9:05am. She rushed in, knocked on her own door (which I found rather puzzling), entered her office and then closed the door without so much as a word or acknowledgment. We all glanced at one another questioningly, but none of us said anything or made move to enter the receptionist’s office. Given that I was already late for the appointment and work, I was a bit irritated by this seeming incompetence.

About 5 minutes later, the receptionist opened the door and called in the first visitor. When she was done (as she was just given a form to fill out), the receptionist again shut the door without a word to the others waiting in line (and by this time, there was about 10 of us). This went on until I was finally seated in the waiting area (merely a hallway with a couple of chairs) to see the doctor. By this time, I was 40 minutes late for my 9:00am appointment – something that just wouldn’t fly in the US.

Finally at 10:10, I was seen by the doctor. At this point, I was wholly irritated and had been thinking about how inefficient this Belgian system is. While the health care may be cheap, I really questioned whether this is a better way. My confidence in the system was restored, however, when I saw the doctor.

While the process may be slow to see the doctor, the visit turned out to be rather efficient. In the US, I would have had to see the doctor, go to the lab to have tests run and then return to see the doctor. Here, it was a one-shot deal. The doctor did it all and I was in and out within 5 minutes – and I was very grateful for that. The only concern that I had was that she was not familiar with an allergy that I have to medication… and she didn’t seem all too concerned about it. She prescribed the medicine and told me to come back if I experienced a reaction. Fair enough, and luckily, I do not appear to be reacting to the meds.

There are three striking observations that I made outside of the efficiency issues. First, the US This visit made me understand that some things are really unnecessary - as well as wasteful. For instance, is it really necessary to wipe my hands (and other unmentionables) with alcohol pads before I give a urine sample? In Belgium, it certainly is not. In fact, the doctor didn’t even wear gloves when she accepted my sample (something I did find a little gross – especially when she shook my hand afterwards).
seems overly obsessed with sanitary measures – probably to a fault.

Secondly, you pay the doctor in cash for the visit – directly. I had to shovel out 20 euro on demand, and then I submit the bill myself to the insurance company. At least it was only 20 euro – I am sure this appointment would have been at least $200 in the US. Thank goodness for socialized health care!

Finally, the visit to the pharmacy proved interesting. I had my prescription filled immediately but instead of giving me the usual 10 antibiotic pills that are necessary, I was given a whole box of 50. I found this quite strange… what am I to do with the other 40 pills? Save them for a rainy day?

All in all, there are pros and cons to each system but if they found a way to integrate the pros from both, I think the turn around times per visit would be far more efficient. I was also impressed that the doctor seemed willing to spend all the time I needed without worry of the others who were waiting to see her. I did get to ask a few questions that I had from a more personal interest point of view and she didn’t seem to be annoyed with spending an extra couple of minutes in discussion.

And for those of you who are dying to know why I saw the doctor but can’t guess based on the info I provided, it turns out that I have a UTI. And for those of you who don’t know what that is – lucky you! I’ve had enough of them in my life and I think I should be on a list to get drugs on demand without seeing a doctor when they crop up. If only such a list existed…

There is more to come… we will soon write about our experiences with our Belgian friends, work and the next few months so stay tuned;)


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