Visiting a local clinic in Taiwan
Two weeks into our month-long stay in Taiwan, I developed an infection on my leg on a mosquito bite, and needed to see a doctor. It was relatively easy to find information about Taiwan’s healthcare system online in English, but this information was generally targeted at one of two groups:
- foreigners working in Taiwan, usually as English teachers, who have access to Taiwan’s National Health Insurance (NHI), or
- medical tourists making use of various hospitals’ ‘International Healthcare’ options, which require advance bookings, offer VIP-suites, and are generally for much more serious issues, including operations.
As a short-term tourist with a minor problem, I wanted to visit the equivalent of a General Practitioner or GP at home, but found it difficult to get information on local clinics in English, what sort of fees would be charged for someone not enrolled in NHI and whether I was even eligible to visit one as a non-resident without an NHI card.
Fortunately, I found the process was actually very easy.
(TLDR: find a clinic on Google maps or look for the NHI logo. Be careful to avoid the breaks, register at the desk, wait to be called, pay your bill and collect your medicine – it won’t break the bank!)
*If you have a health emergency, 119 is the number for both ambulance and fire.
Finding a Clinic
Using Google Maps, we found a clinic near our AirBnB open 6 days a week.
You can also often spot a clinic by looking for the NHI logo, which looks like this:
Some clinics specialise in a particular kind of medicine, but if there is a lot of writing outside, chances are, they have a lot of specialities and there should be someone who can help you.
Many clinics in Taiwan have two or even three sets of opening hours – morning, afternoon, and sometimes evening hours. The hours will usually be written in Arabic numerals (9:00 ~ 12:00 etc.) so they’re easy to find.
上牛 means ‘am’ or morning hours
下牛 means ‘pm’ or afternoon hours, and
晩上 means ‘night’ or evening hours.
Days of the week are numbered in Taiwan, usually in Chinese characters. The first three numbers are very easy – they look like Roman numerals turned sideways! 一, 二, 三 is 1, 2, 3 (I, II, III). The week starts from Monday, so:
一(Mon) 二(Tue) 三(Wed) 四(Thu) 五(Fri) 六(Sat)
Arriving at the clinic, we went straight to the desk and asked to see a doctor. The receptionist filled out the registration for me based on the details on my passport (name, birth date, sex). I was initially surprised when I was registered as having been born 11 years earlier than my actual birthdate, but this is the Taiwanese calendar – 2018 is 107 in the Taiwanese calendar, so someone born in 1990 for example will be registered as ‘79’ not ‘90’. And someone born in 2001 will be registered as ‘90’ not ‘01’).
Then we took a seat in the waiting area. When it was my turn (we were waiting for perhaps 15 minutes), the doctor called my name over the PA (as it turns out, however, I had been registered under my middle name, so I didn’t notice my name being called at first).
As we were staying outside of Taipei city, I wasn’t sure whether the doctor would speak English, so had prepared Google Translate to explain my problem. However, this turned out to be unnecessary. Many of the sites I read suggested that most doctors in Taiwan speak English, and this was certainly true of the doctor I saw, who not only completed a thorough consultation in English (asking about my medical history, checking the site of the infection, taking my temperature and blood pressure) but also wrote the notes up for me in English, which I imagine would be useful if you needed to follow up with your doctor at home or make any claims with your insurance company. (Although given the price of health care in Taiwan, I doubt you would). Once the consult was over (it lasted a couple of minutes) I was sent back to the waiting room to await my prescription.
Within a few minutes the receptionist gave me a small print out containing my details, the doctor’s notes, and the prescription, and told me the fee – $600 NTD, which is around $26 AUD or $20 USD. To my surprise, this was the total cost for the clinic registration, the consultation itself, and the three medications (one of which was a course of antibiotics, the other two to help with the inflammation and healing process) the doctor prescribed. I paid in cash, having read that payment is expected on the spot, and not all clinics have card facilities, so having some local currency available before you go is advisable.
I did not receive a receipt which listed the breakdown or the total I paid, which didn’t bother me since the total was far too low to claim on my insurance anyway, but is worth asking for if you have a low excess or a high bill.
I took the receipt over to the pharmacy attached to the clinic, and the pharmacist gave me the medication in a custom-printed paper bag which had my details, as well as the details of the medication (name, dosage, number of days, and total number of pills in this case). The bottom of the bag had space for the pharmacist to indicate how to take the medicine. Fortunately, I can read some Chinese characters (毎日___回 means ‘___ times a day’, and ____日份 means ‘for ___ days’. 三餐飯後（前） means ‘(before) or after each meal’ (before is 前 and after is 後 – one of these will likely be cancelled out). However, I didn’t need to worry about this because the pharmacist also spoke English and explained these instructions to me.
All of the tablets were separated into individual packets containing the doses I would need to take with each meal.
Interestingly, the possible side-effects of the medications were all listed on the print out I received, not on the medication bag itself. I used camera mode in Google Translate to get some idea of the potential side-effects, which (Google Translate claimed) included ‘constipation, abdominal pain, and evil’ (I think Google only picked up the first character in 噁心, which simply means ‘nausea’). As the names of the medications were all in English on the prescription and the bag, I think it is much more reliable to check the side effects on a reputable Rx site instead of relying on Google Translate!
All in all, my experience at the clinic in Taiwan was very positive – I was assisted by friendly staff, saw a very kind and competent doctor, and obtained the medication I needed very promptly, for around the same cost I would have paid to see a doctor and get a prescription like this filled at home, with my Medicare card (Australia’s national health insurance). It was much less than I would expect to pay full-fee, on a weekend.
In short, visiting the doctor in Taiwan should not be something to be stressed about.
Get well soon!