Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Getting Medical Tests Done in Ukraine

I recently needed to get some blood and medical tests done in Ukraine. I'd never done more than visit a doctor once in a blue moon for some specific problem. What I'd done in the past was to call the Insurance for Foreigners hotline (when I had this insurance) and tell them I was ill. Then they arranged a time and place for me to visit a doctor. This time around I didn't have any insurance and wanted to do some preemptive medical investigations, so I needed to take a different approach.

I was aware that everything I wanted to check up on can be arranged through private clinics. But choosing among a myriad of seemingly identical clinics is a nightmare, so I waited till I left Kiev for Sevastopol to get the work done there. I also figured the prices would be lower.

Sure enough, the number of private clinics in Sevastopol was somewhere between 5 and 10, which made it a lot easier to choose. Still, it was a bit daunting investing the different clinics and trying to make the best decision.

Finally, I went in for my first blood tests. I walked in, asked for the price list, and a few minutes later told the administrator which ones I wanted. I paid at another window, brought the slip back, and was directed into the testing room. Five minutes later I was out. I left my email with the administrator to get my results by email.

This first experience was very encouraging given the simplicity of the process. The registration process was quick and easy and no documents were necessary. Once I got the results back, I decided to see some doctors. I chose a different clinic on a whim and set up my first appointment over the phone. I ended up staying with this clinic. Luckily, in Sevastopol most medical services are provided in a specific neighborhood, making it easy to save time by scheduling doctors visits or analyses for a certain time of day.

The procedure for seeing a doctor is more complex than for doing blood tests. You need a passport, and they create a new account for you. Your citizenship doesn't matter. In Kiev these accounts are almost always on the computer, but the clinic I visited in Sevastopol actually registered me in a dedicated paper booklet that they recorded all my visits in and stored in an expansive shelf in the registration room.

The cost of seeing a doctor varies with the specialist, but it is currently about 100 to 150 UAH (12-19 USD) for the first visit and half that for follow-up visits if they take place within a month of the previous visit. 20 minutes are usually allotted per visit. It's wise to get there 10-15 minutes early in order to register at the front desk and pay for the visit before it's your time to see the doctor.

Both doctors I ended up seeing seemed reasonably professional. One was particularly responsive and listened carefully to what I was saying, and was positive about my online research in the field. I had read positive reviews about the doctor online on some Sevastopol Internet forum. The other doctor was also professional but was less positive about my online research, suggesting that "too much reading can make you think you're ill, blah blah blah." I had to defend my efforts and explain that I'm not prone to hypochondria. This doctor would get lower ratings from me because she seems less attuned to her patients' needs, but she was still sufficiently professional.

It was interesting to read what doctors had written after each appointment with me when I came in the next time, picked up my account booklet and carried it to the doctor for our visit. I took photos of these notes for my personal records.

Both doctors then gave me recommendations — направления — indicating that I should get this or that test done just in case. I then took these to the places they recommended and had the tests done.

My experiences at these specialized labs were also relatively positive. At the first one, there was a confused crowd of people trying to figure out which line was for registration and which was for testing. I marvelled at the poor organization, given that each week the same thing must happen over and over again, and no one at the center takes it upon themselves to at least put clear instructions on the door. Nonetheless, the testing procedure itself was relatively quick and painless.

All along the way I thought of how much money and probably time I was saving over doing the same tests in the U.S., and the fact that at each step along the way I could ask questions and get additional information and was not simply an object on a conveyor belt.

Conclusion

Now that this experience is behind me, I know that addressing health concerns in Ukraine is not difficult at all, and I won't be tempted again to keep putting things off because I don't understand the system. I also feel comfortable about not having health insurance of any kind. Pretty much any problem that has any likelihood of arising can be properly dealt with for a few thousand dollars at most. Having this amount of savings would seem to negate the need for insurance.

The second main lesson learned is that no matter which country you are in, you must take responsibility for your own health into your own hands. You cannot expect to meet a doctor who will examine all areas of your life and identify the cause and effect relationships between diet, lifestyle, emotional life, relationships, stress levels, and your health issues, whatever they may be. Each doctor focuses on his particular specialization and medical solutions to specific problems within that field. So, self-education is essential in order to see the bigger picture and avoid overdependence on doctors who often aren't sure of their diagnoses and lack perfect information about their clients.

More on Healthcare in Ukraine at TryUkraine.com.

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