Months before our move to Ankara became likely I had the opportunity to visit Turkey for the fourth time. While I was visiting, a relative of my husband was in the hospital. Although I had not yet met him, I went along with with the family to visit him. I was told I could wait outside, but I took advantage of the chance to get a glimpse of the Turkish heathcare system.
At first, I was startled by how dark this particular hospital was. But other than that everything seemed familiar to me. Nothing was out of the ordinary. It was later explained to me that because of energy issues here, the hospitals conserve energy where possible. As in homes, stores, schools and offices, lights are turned off when not needed. My parents could have had great jobs here – scolding the employees for not turning off the lights!
Before moving, I also had opportunites to speak with Turks living in the Philadelphia area about their thoughts on the differences in medical care. They were all in agreement that they thought the Turkish system was better at least when they first came to the States. I found this odd considering Philadelphia has world-reknowned hospitals and Turkey is still considered a developing country. Eventually, most of them began to like American doctors and hospitals better with the passing of time. But they held firm in their beliefs that the Turks have a great system.
Upon my arrival to Turkey, I started to look into doctors in case I would need them. In the States I had my “main doc” in addition to rheumatologists, dermatologists, gynocologists, otolaryngologists (did I spell that right?) and the like. I had my work cut out for me. If you know where to look, there is a wealth of information available for expats in foreign lands. Finding doctors in my needed specialties who spoke English, wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. The U.S. Embassy in Ankara lists doctors and hospitals right on its website. Many of the hospitals’ websites also have English translations which are quite useful – especially when Turkey was banning the Google Translator.
In Turkey, one is provided health insurance through their employers. The insurance vaires, depending on where you work. The university for which my husband works is owned by the government. Therefore we have government insurance as opposed to private insurance. There are both government hospitals and private hospitals. We initially thought that we would only be able to go to doctors at the government hospitals, which are for the most part, not as good as the private hospitals. However, we have since learned that at least some private hospitals have doctors who also take government insurance, with a small co-pay. In fact, I saw one doctor who has morning hours for the government patients and afternoon hours for private patients. These appointments take place at the same hospital. And strangely, she even sees patients in two locations in that hospital. The newer section, of course, where her office is located, is reserved for her private patients. She sees patients with government insurance in the older part of the hospital.
In addition to the Embassy and other websites, I belong to two email “groups” of expats here in Ankara. When needed, I email these groups my requests for information. These groups consist of truly amazing people. Within minutes of asking anything from restaurant suggestions to where I can buy an English book, I get responses with helpful information from people I have never met. I used this tool when searching for doctors. Not only did I get the requested information, but I was also offered additional information, stories, and lunch dates.
One woman told me her experience of medical visits here. “If a doctor hands you a thermometer, do not put it in your mouth!” She works in a high school. She had visited the school nurse and plopped a thermometer in her mouth only to find that thermometers go under the arm. Ewww!
Another woman shared her stories of giving birth to her children here in Ankara. She liked her hospital and the doctors. One of her strangest experiences was the post-care. After giving birth, she didn’t realize that she was expected to have someone there with her to care not only for her personal needs, but also for the baby. They didn’t have nurses to change the diapers and feed the babies. New mothers and the babies are tended to by their husbands, family, and friends while in the hospital.
Two buildings down from my apartment is Guven Hastensi, Trust Hospital. It is listed on the Embassy’s website, has a good reputation, and seemed like a good place for me to look for doctors. There have two Rheumatologists listed on it on the website. I tried to make an appointment but found they were down to one doctor and he was leaving for the States. I also tried to make an appointment for the eye doctor. Using the hospital information on the website, I tried to select one that specializes in my particular problem. I was successful in finding him, but learned that he did not take the government insurance. He did however, briefly meet with me at no charge – since I was already there. We briefly discussed my problem – in English – and I quickly decided that if my problem recurs, I will pay his private fee, 180TL ($120.)
I also paid a visit a gynocologist/obstetrician. I had previously visited one at the University, where we paid pratically nothing. But decided to check out Guven the second time. Making an appointment in Turkey is much easier than in the States. There are no long waits. I didn’t have to call months in advanced as we do in the States if you want to see a dermatologist, rheumatologist or gynocologist!! In fact, they suggest calling the week before. While they have English speaking consultants to help make appointments, I found that it would have been more difficult to actually go to the appointment without my Turkish speaking husband. At the hospital, it was like a cattle-call. There was a counter in the middle of the department with 3 or 4 staff members. The patients and their loved ones were all crowded around the counter, pushing and shoving, checking in or trying to pay. You would have thought it was a good shoe sale.
The appointment went smoothly. I was happy with the doctor. I was handled very much as I would have been in the U.S. I’m not sure that doctors are used to being questioned as much as I have been trained to do. But this doctor was fine with it. She even gave me her cell number and email. They do blood tests and other tests routinely. I was even told by one friend that they do ultrasounds much earlier here and more regularly here. (I guess that’s not necessarily a good thing but it’s very exciting for the parents.)
Last week I had the misfortune of visiting the emergency room at Guven. It was in the early morning hours and my husband was with me. It was lucky for us that the hospital was so close. We were there in two minutes. This I would not have been able to handle speaking English. I was admitted immediately by a doctor. All of the staff showed great care. There was a specialist who came within the hour, immediately after finishing a surgery. She was very kind in addition to demonstrating great skills. I remained in the hospital for a total of about 3 hours. Last time I accompanied someone to HUP in Philadelphia, I think it was about 2 hours before they were seen by a doctor. At least it felt that way. My husband went to pay the bill and found that our government insurance completely covered the bill at this private hospital. At the end of it all, a man wheeled me in a chair to the front door. My husband informed him that we lived down the street. The next thing I knew, the man had wheeled me to my front door.
I had a follow-up visit this week. We returned to see the specialist who had helped us that night. She worked in the private side of the hospital. There were no lines, no masses at counters, and it was a very short wait. Again, she was very gentle and helpful.
Thanks to these experiences, internet information, and my new friends here in Ankara, I am no longer afraid to visit a doctor in this foreign land. I am learning how to get through an appointment on my own without my husband. Maybe one day I will be brave enough to visit a dentist. (But probably not. I’ll keep heading to West Chester, PA for now!)
Update: Two readers have informed me that relatively recent law reform requires all Turkish hospitals to provide medical attention for emergency visits.