My first encounter with the Taiwan health system

No, I didn’t fall off a scooter…

Google Maps photo of a large hospital building on a busy multi-lane road.
Kaohsiung Municipal Ta-Tung Hospital. Photo: Google Street View.

A couple of months before leaving New Zealand, my blood pressure was abnormally high and I had migraines for the first time in my life. Likely compounded by stress—I was selling my house and preparing to move—my doctor prescribed medication to address the issue.

Needing to renew my prescription, today I visited the larger of two hospitals in my neighborhood.

Unlike in New Zealand, here it’s not necessary to make an appointment. Instead, you rock up to any hospital, take a ticket, and take your place in the queue.

There were perhaps 20 people in the waiting room, which was configured like an airport arrival hall. When my four-digit number came up, I went to the corresponding counter and—via the Translate app—asked to see a doctor to renew my prescription.

The administrator took my Alien Resident Card and loaded details into the computer. She warned me that, as I don’t yet quality for National Health Insurance, my consultation and medication would be unsubsidized.

I was given a document with a room number on it, and directed to the elevator.

The 4th floor had a wide and very long corridor, with rows of seats down the middle. I sat outside room 410, which had my name on a screen next do the door.

A couple of patients exited the room and sat next to me, but I wasn't sure whether I could go in. I saw a passing nurse and showed her my paperwork. She spoke no English, but directed me to a self-service blood pressure monitor in the middle of the room.

It was connected to a computer, with a slot for inserting the National Health Insurance card I don’t yet have.

I couldn’t read the faded Chinese instructions, so I just put my arm in the tunnel and pressed the green button.

A receipt with my blood pressure reading popped out the side. The numbers were infeasible and deadly: something like 250/200. (The doctor later confirmed I should’ve read the instructions.)

The nurse came back and gestured for me to enter the consultation room. She followed me inside and sat at a desk to the side, with the doctor at another desk in the center of the room.

Taiwanese doctors are trained in English, so although I couldn't speak with the nurse, I had no communication issues with my doctor. Like the administrator downstairs, she also explained the consultation and prescription would be expensive without National Health Insurance—and therefore she would forego any routine tests to save me money.

(They can wait until I’m eligible for NHI in July.)

She explained my prescription would be a close-but-imperfect match for what I had in New Zealand, and outlined what would happen next:

  1. I would wait outside the room, while she and the nurse completed some paperwork.
  2. The nurse would bring me the prescription and paperwork, which I would take to reception downstairs.
  3. I would pay in cash.
  4. I would take my receipt to the hospital pharmacy, and collect my prescription.

Indeed, that’s what happened. By the time I had my receipt, my prescription was ready.

The whole visit took around 45 minutes, and cost the equivalent of NZ$35 for the unsubsidized consultation (plus a few hundred NZD for the unsubsidized medication).

Five stars. Will come again.