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Friday, May 20, 2022

Top tips for visiting doctors and hospitals in Turkey

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Let’s face it, most of us do not jump at the opportunity to go to the doctor. I know in the United States where I grew up, when I became an adult I would only go to the doctor if something was actually wrong. However, ever since I moved to Turkey, I have been able to go to any type of doctor I choose pretty much at the drop of a hat.

When I first moved to Istanbul in 2004, I wasn’t healthy and trying to get back in shape was hard. I lived in Cihangir and the sounds of the horns and obstructed sidewalks, or lack of, made walking long distances stressful. When my mother suggested I try out living closer to her in Bodrum, I jumped at the chance, which was over 15 years ago. It was in Bodrum that I decided to get a thorough checkup for once in my adult life and lo and behold, I found out I was a Type-1 Diabetic. Getting that diagnosis was not easy, I even spent time admitted to the hospital to have all of the testing needed for confirmation. Since then, I have been on a regular regiment of annual checkups with a variety of doctors, including opticians and all of my insulin is provided through my social security insurance, which in Turkish is SGK.

SGK is the state insurance administration where employees in Turkey rack up their hours for the social security they will receive in retirement that also provides nearly full coverage for medical needs at any state hospital. Many private hospitals also accept SGK and will decrease the relevant amount compensated. Thus, if you go to a private hospital, you still have to pay out of pocket, but it costs less than if you didn’t have the insurance to begin with. Private hospitals tend to be less crowded and for that reason alone can be preferred.

But what I want to talk about are Turkey’s state hospitals, which are scattered in towns and cities throughout the country and are referred to as “Devlet Hastanesi.” Now, if you are from Istanbul or any larger city in Turkey, what I say may shock you, but I have literally developed personal and even friendly relations with my doctors in hospitals in Anatolia. Sure, I’ll admit, I am pretty memorable, but I believe the familiarity patients feel with their doctors is due to the small-town mentality and the fact that visiting state hospitals in the heartland of Anatolia is not only super easy, but interestingly enough, it’s actually kind of fun. That is if you do it right!

So, here in Turkey anyone and everyone can go to the Devlet Hastanesi. These hospitals tend to have most of the prominent disciplines represented and in most cases, you can see opticians, dermatologists and internal medicine doctors all in the same building. For decades, the system in Turkey was to just show up and you were automatically seen, and to be honest this method is still in play. However, there is now an extremely efficient help line (186) and online reservation system, where you can book your appointment early.

However, even if you book an appointment days in advance, do not be surprised if on the day you still wait for hours. This is because the old system still remains, in which people still just show up and need to be fitted in. The other reason you might get stuck waiting in line is due to Turkey having adopted a system in which patients are classified in order of priority, and in many cases regardless of any pre-scheduled appointment.

Therefore, I believe there is never any reason to get frustrated when waiting to see the doctor because it just means I am healthy enough that others are a priority and that’s not bad. The hierarchy of priority is as follows in ascending order: Emergency patients; handicapped people; pregnant women; veterans; those over the age of 65; children under the age of 7; civil and state servants such as military and health personnel. And so, my friend if you are none of those things, be aware that you are considered healthy enough to wait it out.

This doesn’t mean, a hospital appointment will always take forever, there are certainly a couple of tricks to the trade to make everything go smoother. First of all, the early bird always catches the worm! The earlier you arrive, the better your chances are, otherwise it’s better to wait until around 11 a.m. to beat the morning rush. Because, if you miss the initial window, 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. will most likely be chaotic. In many hospitals, laboratories only accept bloodwork until noon, so the system in Turkey has always been to arrive at the doctor before lunch and have any bloodwork needed done, and then to return back to the doctor in the afternoon (or after 2 p.m.) for the doc to assess the results.

This also means that after lunch and until at least 3 p.m. the waiting room can get intense. Appointments aren’t set for the afternoon assessment of tests: the doctor is simply tasked with fitting everyone in. This is where it can get trying and you can get stuck waiting while the doctor has to recall and revisit every single patient who came in in the morning. I choose to arrive for my bloodwork reading at around 3:30 p.m. after the initial chaotic wave of answer seekers has subsided. I also never knock on the doctor’s door. Turks are notorious for just busting in and bursting out their dilemma to a doctor trying to focus on the patient at hand. This can obviously be distracting for a doctor and thus I would highly advise just waiting until the door opens to ask any questions. After all, it could be you in there and wouldn’t you like to have your doctor’s full attention.

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