Within 12 hours of vomiting his soba lunch all over the back seat of the car, my younger son, aged 2 at the time, was hospitalized with acute gastroenteritis and serious dehydration. Luckily, we were in Tokyo where his pediatrician not only spoke English, but also was available to deal with our emergency in the middle of the night. By the next day my son had fully recovered, and our harrowing experience reaffirmed the importance of a good relationship with a trusted family doctor, especially when living in a foreign country.
In Tokyo we are fortunate to have access to excellent medical care, with a number of internationally trained physicians who can communicate in English. When searching for a pediatrician or family doctor, parents have a number of factors from which to choose. Ideally, you want someone who is well-trained, competent and experienced in their field, but there are other aspects to consider as well.
Location: Having a doctor’s office located near or easily accessible to your home is always a plus, but for some families convenience is at the top of their list when choosing a health care provider.
Philosophy: Some parents have strong feelings about what kind of treatment they want for their children, while others prefer more guidance and advice. Discuss topics which are important to you to see if you and the doctor agree on major issues.
Bedside manner/environment: It’s always helpful if the physician has a rapport with your child, but since kids are often upset when they’re sick and have to visit the doctor, check out his ability to handle an anxious (or hysterical!) patient. A kid-friendly, clean waiting room where your child can play safely will also make your life easier.
Availability: Find out what kind of access you’ll have to medical care after hours, how to schedule appointments and what to do in emergency situations.
Special needs: If your child has a chronic illness such as asthma or a condition that requires special medication, you’ll want to find a doctor with expertise in that area.
Health insurance: Many families choose medical care based on their insurance plans. Not all doctors accept Japanese National Health, but many ex-pat families are covered by separate policies, so you should know your options.
The following English-speaking doctors are in private practice here in Tokyo. All have specialties in pediatrics and offer 24-hour emergency care.
Dr. Gabriel Symonds, a British general practitioner, opened the Tokyo British Clinic in 1992. A graduate of the University of London, and formerly on staff at Tokyo Medical and Surgical Clinic, Dr. Symonds’ areas of expertise are in orthopedic medicine and pediatrics. He has also developed a highly successful method for people who want to stop smoking.
Dr. Symonds and his wife Masumi are the parents of three children and, although he sees a wide variety of patients in his practice, he has a special interest in mother-and-child care. I have personally consulted him for advice on everything from circumcision to fluoridated vitamins to ear infections.
Tokyo British Clinic is located on the second floor of the Daikanyama Y Building, 2-13-7 Nishi-Ebisu, in Shibuya-ku. For appointments call 5458-6099.
In 1994, Dr. Keiko Lee opened Lee Medical Clinic, specializing in pediatrics and internal medicine. A graduate of Keio University School of Medicine, Dr. Lee speaks excellent English. During her residency at Saiseikai Chuo Hospital, Dr. Lee focused on hematology and infectious diseases but switched to pediatrics after the birth of her first child. She is the mother of four boys and the wife of American gymnastics guru/businessman Lance Lee.
Dr. Lee’s Medical Clinic uses as its logo the same symbol as her husband’s fitness company, ICC. The emblem shows a person reaching for the stars, a philosophy important to Dr. Lee. She feels, with hard work and a positive attitude, anything is possible.
For more information or to make an appointment, call 5420-0168, or visit their website, www.igcjapan.com. Lee Medical Clinic is located at 3-39-5-1B Ebisu in Shibuya-ku.
Dr. Michiko Suwa opened her pediatric clinic in Hiroo in 1995, after 10 years studying medicine in Canada and the United States. A member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Suwa had operated a private pediatric practice in Los Angeles while her husband attended dental school there.
Dr. Suwa finished her residency in pediatrics at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, and later completed a fellowship for physically disabled children at the University of Southern California. At the Hiroo clinic, her international roster of patients come from more than 40 countries, and Dr. Suwa can communicate in English, German, French and Chinese.
Dr. Suwa’s office is in the Nikko Royal Palace Building, 5-16-4 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku. For appointments call 3444-7070, www.suwa-pediatrics.com/english/.
A more recent addition to the community is an American physician, Dr. Frederick Shane, who opened the Shane Clinic in Higashi-Azabu in September of 2001. A graduate of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, Dr. Shane furthered his training in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Upon completion of active duty, he remained in Japan and opened a medical clinic in Kobe in 1954.
After practicing there for 36 years, Dr. Shane and his wife moved to Tokyo where he worked with Dr. Eugene Aksenoff at the International Clinic for 11 years before starting his own practice. Dr. Shane is the father of four children, the eldest a physician practicing in Colorado.
Shane Clinic is a small, outpatient family clinic, staffed by Dr. Shane’s nurse, Ms. K.C. Takahashi, who has worked with him for more than 40 years. As a general practitioner, Dr. Shane treats all family members, including gynecological care, and sees children from infants to teenagers. He has also had success in the treatment of acne.
For more information or to make an appointment, contact Dr. Shane at 5549-9983, or e-mail FIShaneMD@aol.com. The clinic is located on the third floor at 2-33-5 Higashi-Azabu in Minato-ku.