You are in Japan and you are looking for a home (family) doctor who will provide medical care for you and your whole family and who knows your individual situation?
I worked as a cardiac surgeon in one of the leading cardiac centers in Germany for over 30 years and have now settled in Japan as a home doctor specializing in cardiology and cardiovascular surgery.
In the following I would like to share some basic information about the home doctor system which is not yet established in Japan.
What is a home (family) doctor?
The term “home doctor” is not widely used in Japan. Quite contrary to Germany, where (primary) medical care and the relationship of trust between patients and doctors form the core of the health care system. This system has proven very successful and guarantees high quality medical care for all people.
The home doctor holds a so-called “gate-keeper function” and is the first person to be consulted for fever, broken bones, joint pain, mental disorders and so forth. In addition to the physical examinations, the home doctor conducts health education conversations and advice, for example on smoking, drinking or eating habits, and maintains thus a close relationship of trust with his patients.
Why is the home doctor necessary?
The home doctor has accompanied you in your growth and aging for a longer period of time and, taking known allergies and chronic illnesses into account, he can determine the best possible therapy for you and refer you to suitable specialists.
In Japan, your medical records are of course kept in the practices that you visited as a patient, but there is no centered treatment and aftercare.
A general practitioner and family doctor who understands your current illness and your long-term, individual lifestyle will be able to advise you much more comprehensively and holistically.
The family doctor accompanies your recovery from the first examination and therapy up to the correct dosage of the medication.
What is the advantage of a home doctor?
In the current Japanese health care system, unless you have sudden and severe symptoms, you will see a doctor’s practice nearby.
The doctor treating you will then send you, if necessary, with a referral slip to a larger suitable hospital, which is equipped with the appropriate specialists and medical equipment.
The problem here is that most people first make a self-diagnosis and decide on their own which medical practice (internal medicine, surgery, orthopedics, ENT, etc.) they consult.
In the best case, you are on the right track and the resident specialist will refer you to a larger hospital if needed.
Whoever examines you in the referral hospital, however, is an entirely different matter. This is decided by the operating room and duty roster. Because – and this is important to know – the doctor will only refer you to a certain hospital, not to a specialist he trusts.
For this reason, I strongly advocate a home doctor system where home doctors work on the basis of specialist knowledge, information exchange and trust in the service of the patient.
A well networked and professionally competent home doctor will not recommend this or that hospital, but a colleague of his or her trust. This is very important for the patient. After an extended examination or surgery and discharge from that hospital, the home doctor will of course continue to monitor and treat you until you are fully recovered.
By choosing a home doctor who you can trust and discuss any change of your physical condition and symptoms that are unsettling to you, you yourself are contributing to a faster diagnosis of your disease and appropriate therapy.
With a reliable and trustworthy family doctor at your side, your health is looked after and managed holistically and at eye level.