Japan Today

Pediatric emergency services in Japan – How to locate help and what to prepare

By Japan Healthcare Info

One beautiful Sunday afternoon, 3-year-old Tim was invited to his friend’s birthday party. After the kids exchanged presents and played together, cake and some snacks were provided. Tim had a bite of a home-made peanut cookie; a few minutes later, he began to cough repeatedly, and a rash appeared around his mouth, then all over his body. Tim’s mother thought he would be fine in a while, but his coughs were getting worse. She rushed him to a hospital nearby, it looked dark but she thought “There should be someone who can help Tim, this is a big hospital.” She asked a guard for help, shockingly he said “Hospital is closed, it’s Sunday, go somewhere else.”

Sounds shocking? But this is the reality. Not every Japanese hospital can accept emergency patients 24/360. Then, what do we do when we need help? Here is how the system works.

Rotation System of After-hour/Holiday Clinics

Your local city clinics/hospitals take turns to operate in after-hour on holidays for primary emergency care from about 17:00 to 21:00 (Hours vary depending on the area). Japanese clinics/hospitals are divided by their specialist departments, and often only internal medicine, pediatrics or surgery are available on holidays and at night. So if your little one has a finger fracture, it will be very challenging to find someone available or you will have to travel far to see a specialist.

To find after-hour/holiday clinics, visit the Medical Association Page of your local city (医師会 いしかいishi-kai) or some City Office that has the information on their web site.

Why can’t my child have a care from a big hospital when needed?

This rotation system makes it difficult to provide a care from one big, general hospital near you. Many people think patients can receive a care when they need, regardless of day/time for emergency, however it has a lot to do with luck.

If Tim was lucky on that Sunday afternoon and the hospital had a pediatrician on shift, he was able to receive a care that he needed promptly. His mum ended up calling many hospitals to locate a pediatrician available for Tim. She spoke some Japanese so commutation with the hospital staff wasn’t so difficult. But if she hadn’t been Japanese-speaking, things would have been extremely difficult. I will provide advice and what to prepare for non-Japanese speaking people in the next chapter.

Emergency Information Sheet

Pediatric emergencies happen at the most unexpected time. We advise you to put all the contact information in one sheet and stick it on a fridge.

Contact number and address of local after-hour and holiday clinic

Some cities provide after-hour and holiday clinics, often in the building of the local Medical Association. They can only offer general, non-surgery primary care for your children and in many cases not English-speaking, but you will find them very helpful for sudden fever or stomachache of your child. The care is covered by Health Insurance.

English-speaking pediatrician available on weekends

Although the number is very small, there may be some clinics available on weekends in your city. Possibly far away from your house, but worth preparing contact details and address.

Website of Local Medical Association or City Hall

Many of them have a weekly or monthly list of after-hour and holiday hospitals/clinics on duty.

Ambulance call 119

For critical conditions or you simply don’t know what to do, call 119 for ambulance. There are English speaking operators in Tokyo, although this can depend on area. It is recommended to speak English slowly. You can call an ambulance from a home phone, mobile phone, PHS or a public telephone. 119 reaches the fire department and an ambulance will be sent from the local fire department in 5-10 minutes. In Japan, transporting patients by an ambulance is free, but the cost of care will be charged.

We understand it is always challenging to understand and use foreign medical services – especially Japanese healthcare systems are different from the West. Once you get prepared and learn to use the Japanese system, you will be surprised to find their services to be reasonable and affordable.

We understand many of the information you need to prepare in originally available in Japanese. JHI can help you put pediatric information together for you. For further info, email contact@japanhelathinfo.com.

About Japan Healthcare Info

Japan Healthcare Info (JHI) is a healthcare social entrepreneur organization founded in 2010 after receiving Japanese Government grant. Their bilingual healthcare professional staff is dedicated bridging the communication gap between non-Japanese patients and Japanese Healthcare services. You can find JHI at http://japanhealthinfo.com, or join their Facebook community at http://ja-jp.facebook.com/japanhealthcareinfo.

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99 percent luck in this country in an emergency - how sad .... it is now the year 2012.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A sad indictment of the Japanese healthcare system. The rotation system is just pure craziness at its worst.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Bottom line is that all hospitals should be able to accept emergency patients 24/7.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

And you keep a hospital, staffed with over 100 people, open all weekend for 2-3 patients....

If you know your local rotation, you have a place to get care 24/7 although it may not always be the same place.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

difficult for treatment

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Another little-known resource is to dial #7119. Not just for pediatric cases. Especially helpful if you are not at home and thus don't have immediate access to the piece of paper you stuck on your 'fridge.

7119 connects to the fire & ambulance service advice center who can advise on what to do for different injuries and conditions; they will despatch an ambulance if necessary, or tell you where to find the specialist(s) you need, and which hospitals/clinics are open on which days.

You still have to call the individual hospitals to make sure there is actually a doctor on duty, as the doctors also have a heavy golf rotation schedule to attend to.

Not sure whether this service is available outside Tokyo? Any experiences in the provinces...?

A similar advice line is operated by the police on #9110 - when you want to ask or report something but it's not really an emergency call.

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I have lived in Japan for over 20+ years but didn't realize the lack of hours until after I had my first son. I recall thinking, "What?! You're not open after lunch?" and/or "What?! You're not open 24/7?!" I did learn quick to get to know the hospital hotline and then learn the local hospital schedules.

What really bites is even after you locate an after-hour hospital (not just pediatric but any speciality), you have to call and ask if they'll see you. WTH?!

I love Japan but sometimes I wonder why they run things the way they do...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A book the size of a telephone directory could be written complaining about hospitals, doctors, staff not knowing any English, etc. Living in Japan will have its ups and downs at hospitals. My advice would be, get connected with a medical professional who can get you in some hospital or medical service at any time of day.

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