One of the most potentially daunting experiences for foreigners in Jeju is, arguably, the first time you’re sick enough to need to visit the hospital. At this time, you’re probably already stressed out because you’ve had to take time off work to come- and this doesn’t make you the most popular person with your employer, you’re sick and not feeling good, you can’t speak Korean and maybe to top it all off, you couldn’t find a Korean friend to accompany you.
Stepping through those automatic doors into a brightly lit lobby, to be confronted with a barrage of signs each baring little or no English information and hospital employees who, upon seeing you, appear as perplexed as you are- is one of the more frustrating experiences of life as a foreign resident.
In 2008 the Jeju Provincial Government awarded permits to six clinics, including Halla Hospital, Jeju National University Hospital and Seogwipo Medical Centre, approving the establishment of foreigner-only clinics. The aim was to provide a service where foreigners would have their own treatment area and be provided with English, Japanese and Chinese interpreters. This should be good news to the foreign population, but the questions remain: how many foreigners know about clinics and do the clinics actually provide what they say they do?
Jeju National University Hospital Recently relocated to a new site near Ara Primary School, just off the 1131 route, Jeju National University Hospital was one the medical centres granted a foreigner clinic permit. In an interview with Jo Yeon-il, an administrator, she explained- through a translator, that every single doctor working at the hospital can speak English- yet the hospital was not prepared to authorise any of them for interview. She went on to say that three members of ‘front desk’ staff spoke English but that none of them were working on that particular day. This coupled with the fact that the ironically-named “Disable/Foreigners” help desk was also closed upon arrival, did not bode well.
Jo did not mention any foreigner-only clinic during the interview but did elaborate on the English-speaking ability of the physicians. She explained that while only a very small number of reception staff could speak fluent English, all the doctors could converse at a high enough level to understand a patient’s problem and be able to explain possible treatment options. In the same breath, she added that whenever possible a foreigner should bring a Korean with them to translate.
When asked about how a foreigner would be taken care of if they arrived alone, Jo explained that they should come to the main desk, as the foreigner desk will likely be closed, and take a ticket- when their ticket is called they should explain that they don’t speak Korean. An English-speaker will then be found for them to explain their symptoms to. They will then be escorted to the appropriate department where they will be seen by an English-speaking doctor.
Advice for foreigners Jo also outlined some ways that foreigners can make things easier for themselves and hospital staff by being well-prepared. Bringing a Medical Insurance card is important, she said, because even if a foreigner has insurance, without the card it is difficult to locate them within the computer system. This is due to Koreans’ unfamiliarity with Western names. Bringing your card with you reduces the potential for confusion or delays, and eliminates the risk of having to pay all the fees yourself. Foreigners also need to bring some form of identification, either their alien registration card or passport.
With your Medical Insurance card, you will pay 50% of your medical fees. There are some more expensive diagnostic techniques that are not covered, such as MRIs- the hospital will ask you before undertaking these and you must pay the entire fee.
It would appear that medical care for foreigners on Jeju has a long way to go before it can be considered “foreigner friendly” but having English speaking physicians is at least a step in the right direction. One can only hope that with the number of foreign residents steadily increasing, the Jeju Provincial Government will begin to consider their needs a priority rather than an afterthought.
Jeju National University Hospital can be reached by the 37 and 502 bus from Jeju city, or a short taxi ride from Shi-cheong.
Halla Hospital in Shin Jeju can be reached by the following buses: 6, 20, 26, 31, 37, 38, 92, 200, 500, 502, 887.
Seogwipo Medical Center is 10 minutes walk from downtown Seogwipo.
Jeju National University: 064 717 1114 Halla Hospital: 0647405000 Seogwipo Medical Center: 064 730 3106 Emergency services (EMTs): 119
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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