Public healthcare (National Health Insurance)
When you are sick you can go to either the local clinic or a nearby hospital. The quality of care at clinics may vary. The hospitals are modern and often you can find doctors who speak some English since they may have studied in the US or UK.
If you wish to get an appointment with a doctor, you must make a reservation in the morning to see the doctor later in the day. This way, wait times are avoided but the appointment can be done much later in the day.
NHI coverage is very wide, from basic routine checks to maternity care and traditional Chinese medicine. What the NHI does not cover is the following:
- Gender reassignment surgery
- Infertility or birth control procedures
- Over-the-counter medications
- Eyeglasses, wheelchairs, etc.
- Hearing aids
- Substance abuse/addiction recovery programmes
If you need medication, the doctor will prescribe it to you but only for three days, after which you should get another appointment. Not very handy when taking antibiotics since you may have to go to the doctor a couple of times.
This system works for physical therapy as well. When you get to the pharmacy you will only receive medication amount stated on the prescription. For physical therapy, you will need to pay around NT$50 (US$1.60) for each session, although the doctor may prescribe six sessions in a row.
These prescriptions apply for long term medication as well as for chronic treatments. There is controversy regarding birth control because it has to be prescribed by a doctor and paid by the women at an expensive price for Taiwanese standards, NT$450 to NT$650 (US$15 - US$22) a month. Also, women should note that tampons are not widely available so you may want to bring some.
The NHI system offers many advantages to disabled people. However, in cases of chronic disability, there is a reciprocity requirement of the government: if your home country doesn’t have benefits for Taiwanese, you will not receive any special service.
For more information on the NHI system see the Department of Health website.
There are special clinics (private) for expats with English speaking doctors in which you have to pay since the NHI does not provide for them, some of them are:
- Taiwan Adventist Hospital
- Mackay Memorial Hospital
- Wang Fang Hospital
- The National Taiwan University Hospital
Other than these, there are many private clinics all over the country, which are also more expensive. You can check with your insurance to see if you can be reimbursed or if you will be covered. They tend to have more choice, less waiting time and workers are more familiar with Western medicine.
If you need to go to a hospital for any kind of emergency you should know that it is not exactly the same as in Western countries.
First of all, the ambulances are more like a van with emergency lights and are not necessarily driven by medical technicians with medical equipment so, depending on the emergency, you may want to take your own car or a taxi.
However, if you need to call for an ambulance, the number is 119. When in the ambulance, if you don’t specify where to go, they will drive you to the closest hospital.
Emergency rooms in hospitals are completely different. All patients, no matter the nature of the emergency, should be lying down and so there are gurneys everywhere.
Once you are registered in the hospital, you will notice that it may not be as clean as Western hospitals. In addition, it is usually expected that the patient’s family will take care of the patient’s hygiene, and you will be expected to bring your own towels, soap, etc.
In order to make it easy for the family to help the patient, it is common to have at least one family member sleeping in the patient’s room (even if it is not a fully private room).