Posted by: rbbadger | August 16, 2009

신종인풀루 (H1N1)

Recently, I developed a cough and a sore throat.  My boss, paranoid that I had developed the dreaded H1N1 flu virus, insisted that I go visit the doctor.  Visiting the doctor in Korea is an interesting experience.  Health care costs are artificially kept very low, due to rigourous price controls put in place by the government.  We do have health insurance provided by the Korean government, but it covers precious little.  So it is good that the costs are as low as they are.  When I was in Gwangju, I had private insurance.  This did cover more, though you still have to pay for everything up front.  As for dental care, it doesn’t even cover routine examinations or cleanings.  Thankfully, Korean dental care isn’t terribly expensive, either. 

Anyhow, if there is any word which characterises 21st century Korea, it would be 빨리 빨리 (hurry, hurry).  Unlike other countries with government health insurance (i.e. the UK, Canada), going to see the doctor in Korea is very, very easy.  You either go to a local hospital or to a local clinic.  If the doctor is there, he’ll see you right away.  Not many forms to fill out.  Anyhow, the doctor noted down all of my symptoms, took my temperature (a shade above 37°C) and said that I should go to the local government clinic the next day for a blood test.  He gave me a prescription for some drugs and sent me on my merry way, all within 20 minutes.  It only cost about $10 for that appointment, something which is good as routine doctor’s appointments aren’t covered by Korean health insurance.  The drugs themselves cost only about $10 as well.  My boss thought that they were expensive.  He was pretty amazed when I told him what the costs of health care are in America without health care insurance.

Much like Korean doctors’ offices, Korean pharmacies are sort of a step back in time.  I do believe that they compound some of the medications themselves.  The doctor had prescribed a lower dosage of one of the drugs, so they meticulously cut those pills in half.  Also, most of the pharmacies carry all of the assorted roots, herbs, and whatnot that a traditional Korean doctor would prescribe.  If you see large chest with all sorts of Chinese characters adorning the small drawers, it is  a sure bet that they provide for Oriental medicine as well.  Oriental medicine is very much practiced in Korea today, though there is often conflict between practitioners of western medicine and practitioners of traditional Oriental medicine. 

In this part of Asia, they do pay careful attention to packaging.  So instead of handing over some vials of pills with directions on when to take them, they hand over the medicine in individual packets which look like this.  I had to take these pills three times a day for three days.  Each individual dosage was in its own packet.


I reported to the government health clinic who happily allayed my boss’ fears.  They said, “yes, he was in America and yes he does have a sore throat and a cough.  But, if he was going to develop full blown H1N1, it would have been within 2-4 days after arriving and not a week after.  Also, he has no muscle aches.”  And they thought that a blood test would be a waste of everybody’s time, so I was happy not to have endure that.  Nevertheless, the doctor thought that I should take an antibiotic anyway, so I ended up with more packets of medicine.

The examination was very quick, nothing like going to the doctor in the USA.  Basically, it was, “where does it hurt?”, “let me look at it”, and “here’s a prescription”.  But I must say, the drugs worked very well.  It cleared up the sore throat and cough very quickly.



  1. Sorry you got sick, but glad they take care of you! Change in climate or sweet neice and nephew germs? Anyway, glad you are better!

  2. i’m so glad it didn’t cost you much and thank heavens you are feeling better! there’s been something going around for a while–emmett had it, my kids did, christine did, paul did, a bunch of the mcbrides/whitings/larsons did, and apparently, you did too! don’t you feel lucky you weren’t left out? ha ha

  3. I’m glad you don’t have swine flu. 🙂
    When I go to the doctor it’s usually an hour before I’m done. And when I take one of the children to our local doctor it usually takes at least an hour before they even take us to a room. And then sometimes it’s a half hour or more before the doctor comes in.
    We got our bills from Jill being born, and they’re crazy! Just for room and board and some miscellaneous hospital services it cost $21,000! That doesn’t include lab work, surgery, anesthesia, or in-hospital visits from the doctor. Thank goodness for good insurance!
    I’m glad you’re feeling better. 🙂

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