Today's guest post comes from Sara of Japan Healthcare Info - a very helpful resource for expats in Japan. You can read more about JHI here, but I just want to say they have been incredibly helpful to me in finding specific types of doctors (like pediatricians) and dentists in my area, along with helping me figure out Ai-chan's vaccination schedule, including where to find the recently-approved-in-Japan rotavirus shot (I'll be writing about this in the coming months). I highly recommend checking out JHI if you need help with medical issues here in Japan, especially if you don't speak any Japanese, but even if you do they are still a very helpful resource. -Ashley
Hello! Today I’d like to talk about health checkups in Japan. Checkup systems in Japan can be a little complicated and hard to choose from. I hope this post will give you a better idea of what to expect and look for so you can feel more confident and save money and time.
First of all, there are 3 major health checkup categories in Japan:
School/Company checkups for full-time students or employees
Your school or company in Japan typically provides annual health checkups for free. The screening items are general ones like taking your height and weight measurements, a blood/urine test, and a chest X-ray. Some companies offer expensive, full checkup courses that include a gastroscopy, ultrasound, mammogram, etc.
At school, checkups are done on campus. As for company checkups, employers will often provide a list of contracted hospitals for employees to choose from. Or if you work for a large company, health-screening companies may send a van with healthcare staff and equipment to the company site.
Pros: The checkups are free and if you’re lucky, you may see an English-speaking doctor who can explain the results.
Cons: You can’t choose the testing items. In most cases you get the results by mail in Japanese.
What to do: Your school or company notifies you of the time and place for checkups. For company employees with a list of hospitals, you need to make an appointment.
Private Health Screening Center
Recently many Japanese hospitals have introduced extensive, luxurious health checkup courses. They are commonly called “Ningen Dock” (人間ドック, にんげんどっく) or more formally, “Kenkou Shinsa” or “Kenshin”(検診, けんしん) for short. Ningen Docks range from general to specialized for cancer, the brain, the vascular system, women’s health screening, etc. No health insurance is accepted for a Ningen Dock. Prices vary, usually from 30,000 yen to sometimes more than 100,000 yen!
This is one example of a Health Screening course:
Pros: The quality of screening equipment is higher, methods are more extensive, and the checkups are more thorough than free checkups. Staff are generally nice because you are a customer, rather than a ‘patient’. Some medical centers provide full courses in English.
Cons: Expensive and takes a long time - usually half a day, but sometimes require an overnight stay in the hospital.
What to do: Locate a health screening center in your convenient area and make an appointment. Appointments are always required.
Municipal health checkups
Municipal public health centers provide free, or very cheap, checkups for residents. These mostly target self-employed people with National Health Insurance; however, some screenings are available for anyone as long as they are registered in that city.
Common checkup items include a pap smear/breast exam (mammogram) and various cancer screenings.
The screenings will be performed at the public health center or contracted hospitals in the city.
Pros: Checkups are free. If you’re lucky, you can visit an English-speaking doctor’s clinic on the list.
Cons: The invitation letter mailed out is only in Japanese. Also, the checkups are only provided on very limited days, at limited times and for a specific age group.
This is an example of municipal screenings in one ward in Tokyo…looks complicated!
What to do: Generally, an invitation postcard or letter will be sent to eligible residents. Also, a screening schedule will be published in the local municipal paper or on the city’s website.
Alternatively, ask your local public health center for the schedule and availability. Many checkups require appointments via phone.
What about me? What are my options?
Full-time students: Get an annual screening at your university/school. If you’d like to have more extensive testing like cancer screening or a pap smear/breast exam, either get a municipal checkup or a private screening center’s optional courses. Other than private screening courses, you can visit private clinics as well. For example, many clinics provide pap smears, breast exams, gastroscopies and colonoscopies all year around. The difference between a private screening center and a private clinic is that the center provides basic screening courses from all departments, whereas an individual clinic will only have specialized items. For example, an OBGYN can do a pap smear, but not a colonoscopy.
Remember the screening courses at a private screening center or a private clinic don’t accept National Health Insurance, so it’s best to check the cost before you proceed.
Full-time company employees: Take advantage of the annual screening provided by your company, if you can. Many companies offer almost full screening services and you get to choose the center you'd like to visit from the list. As mentioned in the students section, if you’d like to have more tests done, apply for a private screening center’s optional courses.
Stay-at-home partners, part-time students/workers, self-employed people who have National Health Insurance: Try the municipal checkups. For extensive items like cancer screening, pap smear/breast exam, you may not have an opportunity to get them every year or at your preferred time. In that case your only option is to have them done at a private screening center or private clinic. Many individual clinics provide single screening items such as a pap smear, breast exam, gastroscopy or colonoscopy, for example.
Covered by a family member’s employer’s insurance: Some companies provide the same screening courses to family members, so it might be worth checking with your company. Otherwise the options are similar to National Health Insurance Holders – municipal checkups, private screening centers or private clinics. Again your insurance doesn’t apply; you’re typically required to pay the full costs for a screening.
I hope this information was helpful to you. Japan Healthcare Info can help you find details regarding municipal and private health screening center/clinic information in your area, wherever you are in Japan. If you have any questions or enquiries, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sara is a bilingual medical social worker/coordinator at Japan Healthcare Info (JHI). She joined JHI because her Australian husband experienced heart disease in Japan and they had a difficult time dealing with Japanese healthcare services. After this experience, Sara obtained a social worker’s license and Master of Public Health. She has worked for various healthcare service providers in Japan and is experienced in dealing with the needs of healthcare issues of international people in Japan.
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