Saturday, January 11, 2020

another reason not to trust Korean medical care

A young guy named Gregory Allen, aged 31 and working at Yongsan Garrison, is suddenly slated for open-heart surgery at Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital at the end of 2019. He dies on the operating table just after New Year's. When the parents try to recover the body, the hospital demands a $21,000 payment. Read about the case at ROK Drop. From the article: "The official cause of death was pulmonary embolism, his parents said."

It's pretty shitty that the Korean hospital is demanding what is essentially the price of a car to hand over the son's body. But what caught my attention was the fact that open-heart surgery is a fairly routine procedure these days—around 90% survival rate, with the rate increasing as patients get older. Of course, in Korea, when you're a foreigner, you can't expect much quality care, so it doesn't surprise me to find out that Korean doctors fucked up what ought to have been a straightforward procedure on a foreigner.

This is the future I can look forward to if I decide to stay in Korea. At some point, as I get older, I'm going to be hospitalized, either for disease or for injury. Will I want to go under the knife in Korea or in the States? As I've repeatedly said on this blog, there's no question about it: I simply don't trust Korean health care, and I'd much rather get treated in the States, expenses be damned. Here in Korea, the docs either fuck up or they give up. They're fine for prescribing meds and other simple tasks, but when it comes to surgery on foreigners, I think they freak out, and all their training deserts them.

When my friend Kent Davy was being treated for his cancer, Kent told me the docs had put him on some kind of cutting-edge therapy. I had my doubts, especially as I quietly marked Kent's progress over the subsequent weeks and saw no real improvement. I suspect that what really happened was that the docs had given up on Kent. Had Kent been able to go somewhere like MD Anderson in Texas, he'd have been given a wide array of aggressive, robust treatment options. In Korea, the docs tend to be closed-mouthed about how they plan to proceed, and they give patients the impression that options are limited, and that X is the best—and only—course of action. The Korean mindset has been conditioned by decades of multiple-choice testing: according to this point of view, life's solutions always come down to one correct thing. I suspect that my #3 Ajeossi, when he died of liver cancer almost a year ago, probably had substandard treatment from his docs—and he wasn't even a foreigner. The concepts "Korean" and "competence" don't go together in my mind whenever I think of medical care. It's a good thing that Koreans tend to be healthier than Americans on average: when they finally need healthcare, they're going to be let down, so it's good that that letdown happens close to the end of their life, when it won't matter as much. And it's even worse for non-Koreans.

One of the hazards of living in a foreign country: you're at the mercy of the health-care system. Roll your dice and take your chances... or move back to your home country.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I hear that. Looking back on my years in Korea, I can see that I was misled or at least misdiagnosed on more than one occasion. Of course, the big one was treating my COPD with antibiotics!

    Honestly, I don't get a warm fuzzy about health care here in the Philippines either. It's cheap and the docs speak English, but that's about all I can say. Certain hospitals have a reputation that "that's where you go to die". Most expats say they'd go back to their home country for anything major. Some say they'd go to Thailand if they needed surgery.

    It's a factor to consider in your long-range planning, but I personally would rather take my chances here rather than moving back to the USA for the healthcare.



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