Healthcare-United States vs. Hong Kong
By: Wendy Wu, R.D., M.S.
What I noticed in Hong Kong is a pretty even mix of Western Medicine and Eastern or Chinese Herbal Medicine. Western medicine is described as the treatment of medical conditions with medications, by doctors, nurses and other conventional healthcare providers who employ methods developed according to western medical and scientific traditions. Medical treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and physical therapy. These treatments and medications pass a strict review before a patient can receive them. Eastern medicine refers to medicinal practices developed in China passed down for thousands of years, including various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, exercise and dietary therapy. Very simply put, western medicine heals by science or evidence based research and drugs. Eastern medicine heals by word of mouth or success stories and herbs.
After traveling to Hong Kong, I was shocked at the medical costs. In New York, I paid about $20 USD a week for Health Insurance which privileged me with a $1000 deductible (so I’m basically paying for everything anyway), $25 co-pay to see my primary physician and $40 to see a specialist. Thank goodness annual preventive physical exams were free-once per year. I always remember to bring a book with me to the doctors office because I know I’ll be waiting for at least 30 minutes as they tend to overbook appointments. Not to mention those medical assistants. Do they even have a medical background? Why are they drawing my blood? My doctor is a little different as she knows where I stand with medications but with anyone else, antibiotics were almost always suggested for the common cold, supplementation for any vitamin or mineral deficiency, statins for high cholesterol and strong pain killers for pain. It’s all about medications with western medicine. Like popping candy. Do you have any pills laying around? Just take a look at the side effects.
My rule of thumb is, if it’s not natural then think twice before putting it in your mouth. But what can we do if that’s what our trusted doctors recommend for us? Now I will still go see the doctor when I’m not feeling well just so I know my options but ultimately the choice is mine whether or not to proceed with her recommendations. Same should be with you. If you find out you have high blood pressure, follow the DASH diet. Have high cholesterol? Follow the TLC guide to lowering cholesterol. Diagnosed with Prediabetes? Read my 7 reasons why you don’t want Diabetes post. Take the easy way out- by changing your diet, rather than relying on medications for the rest of your life and very possibly surgery. Unless your doctor tells you that medications are absolutely necessary. Always Ask Questions! Don’t just nod your head. I warn you in advance though, if you’re asking your doctor about alternative medicine, she will say they are all quackery. It’s not her fault, she’s trained to do so. I was trained to do so too.
You should know that all those medications are killing us. Not to mention other medical interventions that may not be necessary. Take a look at this study, Death By Medicine. They estimated 7.8 million iatrogenic deaths by medical interventions over 10-years. I guess that’s why doctors call it a practice? I would like doctors to look at human beings as living souls rather than just another patient. Take the time to refer patients to specialists like dietitians, psychologists, or social workers before prescribing “a pill for that”. Now I’m not saying all doctors are like that, is yours?
Have you seen Sicko by Michael Moore? Maybe there are other agendas?
Mimi’s True Story
About two years ago I noticed a small growth in the center of Mimi’s left paw. Her Vet diagnosed it as Stage 1 benign cancer. He suggested we remove the growth and ask for a second opinion with an oncologist. I agreed to proceed with the surgery to remove the growth. Thank god Mimi survived the surgery. My next move was to take her to see an oncologist. This was my experience: I had requested all of Mimi’s medical records to be faxed over to the oncologist however upon arrival of her appointment, I was informed that her records were never received. The oncologist performed an aspiration on her and suggested chemotherapy and radiation right away. Now, he has no knowledge of her medical background. So quickly he suggested chemo and radiation? After hearing about the side effects which were steroids (prednisone) for the rest of her life, pain for the rest of her life, and her fur, pads, and nails falling off, I decided against such a sad way to go. Two years later, she’s as lively as ever. Her fur, nails and pads are all in place. No pain from what I can see. I don’t know what would have happened if we took the chemo route though.
Why was I shocked at the medical expense in Hong Kong? I caught a cold in New York right before my move to Hong Kong but hesitated to go see the doctor because of my innate fear of medical expenses. Especially when I don’t have health insurance in Hong Kong. I thought to myself, it’s just a common cold, it’ll go away in no time. A week and a half went by, I was still sick. I lost my voice, was coughing up a storm, and nose running like a faucet. I gave up and decided, I’m gonna go see the doctor. I don’t care at what cost. I was referred to a western medicine family doctor and she diagnosed me with Upper Respiratory Inflammation. A sign at the doctors office read “Please be patient as medications are double checked by the physician”. I was shocked by three facts 1) Medications are provided at the doctors office not at the pharmacy and do not cost extra 2) Medications are double checked by the physician and 3) Doctors visit and medications cost me $35.00 USD!!! With NO insurance. A visit to the gynecologist cost me $65.00 USD which included a culture and pap smear. I should add that I also went to see the dentist. A check up and cleaning cost me $65.00 USD. Again NO insurance. With all three visits the waiting time to see the doctor was about 5-10 minutes. They usually don’t take appointments to see regular primary physicians. It’s walk ins only and first come first serve. No overbooking. No long waits. Highly efficient. Very annoying if you’re asked to come back at a later time though.
Healthcare in Hong Kong is definitely affordable and the government certainly does take care of everyone (even me!-a U.S. passport visitor). There are educational channels on TV, posters and announcements teaching Honkies to be responsible people. They wear masks when they are ill as to prevent the spread of their sickness. Portion sizes in fast food restaurants are much smaller than the U.S. Most people exercise by walking a million miles per day because very few people drive. Vegetables and fruits are staples. As a whole they tend to prefer desserts that are not very sweet. There are no donut or cup cake shops at every corner. Being a healthy weight is almost necessary as most clothing stores are one size fits all (small). The preferred beverages in Hong Kong are antioxidant rich teas, like these-7 healthy drinks and their benefits. Everyone just seems to be health conscious. If you walk into a mall, at a glance, there are very few people that are overweight. If they are, I suspect they’re not from Hong Kong.
From watching TV shows and just walking into malls, soups and herbal teas play a very important role in Hong Kong culture. Dry ingredient soup shops and herbal tea stores are everywhere. Honkies believe in the healing properties of nutritious soups deep boiled for hours and drinking certain teas can help with certain ailments. Bonesetters or joint manipulators are also quite popular in HK as alternative medicine. So my biggest question is do they work? I can understand the science behind a deep boiled soup, all the nutrients seep into the soup making for a pot of healthy goodness. In the case of herbs, the flowers are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that play a role in the healing process. Whereas some other practices like bathing in pomelo leaves relies on the power of the placebo effect, other professions provide medical relief that may not be explained scientifically. Bonesetters, now called chiropractors and acupuncturists base their business on good reputation and word of mouth. There are very few scientific studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture leaving many skeptical of its powers. However, when you hear about all the success stories, you might just change your mind. I mean if it’s all fake, why have they been around for thousands of years? It all pretty much makes sense to me.
I was intrigued after watching Steve Kroschel’s documentary Dying To Have Known-a 52-day journey to find evidence to the effectiveness of the Gerson Therapy. According to Dr. Max Gerson, a number of chronic diseases and CANCER can be cured by following the Gerson Therapy. What is the Gerson Therapy you ask? John Board explains it on his blog here. I encourage you to take the time out of your busy day to watch this documentary.
Healthcare has become serious business in the U.S. The environment continues to promote foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Portion sizes are HUGE. People drive everywhere so there may not even be a chance to exercise. Physical Education and Home Economics are first to be cut in schools. Food Stamps (EBT cards) has barely any limitation on food purchases. So a EBT cardholder can buy sodas, chips, cookies and candy for FREE…AT YOUR EXPENSE. Who do you think will benefit when people of the U.S are diagnosed with obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, renal failure, GERD, etc? Take a guess. Healthcare costs are astronomical and who’s paying for it? Tax-payers!
My only advice to you is to make sure you examine all possible options before making medical decisions. The ultimate decision is up to you. I certainly respect the opinion of my primary care physician, but if she prescribes me pills for every little thing without educating me properly about my other options, alarms start to go off. I have certainly learned a lot from the Hong Kong people. They’ve got just about everything right.
Hong Kong has a 73.1 Billion Surplus for 2011
United Stated has a 1.3 Trillion Deficit for 2011