OFF TOPIC: Emergency medical care in other countries.

SuperUltraFabulous's picture


Hi guys:

I recently had the misfortune of having to go to Los Angeles County General Hospital. For those of you who don't know, General Hospital is a huge understaffed facility catering to low income or poor individuals. Urgent Care (a faster emergency service) nor any of the clinics I usually use were not an option. Having had literally been beaten up side my head I already knew I needed a Cat Scan of my head. Not equipment found in a clinic.

I got there at 3:30pm and registered. 20mins later a nurse calls me into an examining clinic (there is a cursory examination to see how sick you really are- if you can wait, you wait, if your case is more serious, you're whisked off to the Intensive Care Unit). My situation was not critical. I get checked out by the nurse and she tells me I need to be seen by the doctor.

But before I see the doctor I have to speak to the insurance lady. I get called for her at around 5:00pm. I give her my insurance card. I'm covered. Mind you there are 12 windows but there are only 4 or 5 insurance people on hand behind those windows.

Then I wait. And I wait. For all the contempt I here regarding County Hospital being over-flowing with people, the amount of people actually looks like any other emergency room I've been to.

I get seen by a doctor at 11:30pm. My total chat with the doctor lasted at the most 4 mins. I was sent to another floor to get the CT scan I needed. I waited for that service for about 1½ hours.

During the wait I began to chat with a nurse about the hospital wait. He told me that actually I was fortunate because tonight was a "slow" night. And not too many people were in the the ICU today. He told me something interesting tho: at night they cut the amount of doctors even further down. And I think on the weekends they close one of the emergency rooms down. There are three. I'm thinking in my head: "LA's population is going up, not down". He said they have decent funding now (referring to story that broke many years ago of how they actually considering closing the hospital). I asked him why cutbacks in the evening or weekends? He said the doctors are too expensive so they have cutbacks. Interestingly he told me the board of directors get bonuses every year but nurses and doctors get raises every once and a blue moon- after they picket of course.

The scan was no more than 2½ mins. Then back to the waiting room on the ground floor. I waited till 3:00am for the doctor to tell me everything was okay even though I felt pretty lousy. I was glad anyway. I was released.

I've had Kaiser and Blue Cross (types of decent medical insurance) and I've had emergency service in their respective private hospitals and disturbingly a 7 to 12 hour wait is about right. So I don't feel too bad after having been to County.

What's it like in Canada, England, Germany, Netherlands etc? Do you guys have to go though a bunch of hoops to the get care you need. Does it take forever like here in the States?

Thank you,

Mike Diaz :-)

TomN-CA's picture

Sucks that happened... I'm in Canada, but also fortunate enough to have always entered a hospital on my own legs via the regular doors.

When I saw this title my first thought was "Multiligual sign design? Hmm, you might be better off with icons" :P

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

Hi Tom:

Thankfully I walked in too. What's it like in Canada? You guys have universal healthcare right? Is it a pain too?

Thank you :-)

David Rault's picture


I've been living in NYC for 10 years, then in Tokyo, Paris and Istanbul, and despite what some might think, every country I've spent some time in is far better than the USA when it comes to medical care, not to mention emergency units. I was lucky enough not to personally experience any emergency problem while I was in NYC, but once my family visited me and my little niece (6 yo at that time) suffered high fever in the middle of the night. I took her to a private clinic uptown and I've been waiting there for 3 hours, for it was a very slow night. I was amazed. Why? Because in France I've never waited more than 20 minutes, even for a broken finger. Last year in Istanbul, I had a serious boat accident and broke my scapula. 40 people were injured in that accident, so imagine, 40 people rushing in the hospital et the same time, and it was a public turkish hospital, already full of people. I was not one of the most seriously injured, some people's faces were litterally ripped off and so on. But nobody waited more then 30 minutes. And at that time I had no insurance at all, not even an ID on me, nothing. In the USA, in that situation, they would probably come to me after a 9 hours wait and tell me to go away. But there, Some guy came, made me every exam (rontgen, doctor's exam, etc), gave me medicine and a prescription, and a doctor even wrote me instantly a paper not to go to my work for some weeks. All within one hour after my arrival. I didnt pay anything at all. 6 month later I had a bad cut on the neck and needed a laser surgery not to bleed to death. I've been to a german private hospital, paid 100 us$, waited 6 minutes and got my stitching, without any insurance etc. I now have the insurance, but believe me, it makes you think.

I can only strongly encourage you to watch Sicko by Michael Moore. As usal He goes a little bit far in order to push his speech in the right direction, but it is definitely worth watching - and quite creepy.

My advice: move.


automaton_be's picture

In Belgium you just walk into the emergency room and they take good care of you. In fact, a lot of people who should just see a doctor (their condition is not an emergency) go to the emergency room instead, because the service is faster and it's convenient (no appointments, always open, ...). The government is trying to remedy that by charging a certain sum if you just walk into the emergency room with a slight cough. Anyone else basically gets free treatment.

HaleyFiege's picture

In Canada there can be long waits in the emergency room depending on what you go in for and the seriousness of the other patients. The longest I've have to wait was an hour though - for 8 stitches on the back of my head and it was in the middle of the day. People who got to go in front of me included women giving birth, broken leg and man with a ring stuck on his finger.

There was very little paperwork involved though. Since I live in another province than the one I hold a health care card in, I had to sign something stating I wasn't lieing about the health card being real. But thats it.

The second time I went to the ER was after coming home from the Caribbean sans a wallet(stolen near Haiti), so I had nothing except my passport and I think there was even less paperwork that time.

Most care is free, except for chiropractic stuff and you have to pay $40 for an ambulance. We have to pay for eye exams now too but it's a flat rate of $75. Here our health care plans basically only cover the cost of prescription drugs, dental work and some eye glasses.

jselig's picture

Coverage in Canada actually varies by a great degree in every province. For instance an ambulance ride in New Brunswick will cost you $180, or it used to a few years back. Eye exams are sometimes covered by private health insurance, or you pay whatever the optometrist charges per hour/service. Quebec plays by its own set of rules when it comes to out of province health care, wether you're in Quebec form another province, or a Quebecois in another province.

For instance in the Northwest Territories, any long-term medication is covered by the government, once you fill out the paper work. So is any drug that is needed to treat an illness related to the one your currently using medication for. Example, if you're asthmatic, your puffers are free, if you develop an illness that's related to your asthma the drugs used to treat that are covered as well.

Generally there is very little bureaucracy involved in being admitted. Everyone does, or should have, a provincial/territorial health card that is plug into a database. A quick search pulls up the information, they ask what the emergency is, and you have a seat and wait. I've had 0 minute wait time for a spinal injury, to 5 hours for a dislocated bone on my foot, which they didn't even set, just told me it wasn't broken and sent me home.

Also, depending on your private coverage, you can be covered for everything to nothing. My current plan only covers minor dental work, such as cleanings/fillings/removal. I had a plan several years ago that covered 85% of my dental/drug/eye care and covered partial costs for other things, such as laser eye surgery. It also covered me if i was traveling outside the country, all in all the best plan I've had, and from what i hear one of the most extensive most employers offer.

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