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Are you looking for a healthcare system that combines quality, promptness and affordability? Well, then come on over. South Korea has just what you’re looking for.

Our son came down with a fever on Sunday night, which at first was pretty minor and nothing to worry about. By lunchtime the next day, in fact, it had pretty much gone away. But the fever soon returned and each time we got it down, it came back worse.

Finally, at 8 p.m. Monday night, it reached 103 Farenheit (39.5 Celsius), pretty close to emergency room territory. It took the help and guidance of KJ’s mom, older sister and brother-in-law to finally get Ian’s temperature down to a safe level.

And so it was that we came to visit the offices of Dr. Lee Jong-yul on Tuesday morning. It was an impressive experience.

Dr. Lee is a jovial fellow who radiates the kindness and patience surely required to deal with crying and screaming sick kids all day. He also projected the kind of calm competence that a worried mom and dad are looking for.

Once informed of Ian’s symptoms, he got straight to work looking for the cause. He listened to Ian’s heart. It was fine. He tapped the little guy’s tummy. No problem there. He put a scope in Ian’s right ear and saw that it was infected. He chatted briefly with KJ about this and then examined the left ear, which the monitor showed was almost completely blocked with ear wax.

This didn’t surprise us much.

When Ian’s ears had been examined back in Victoria, British Columbia, a couple of doctors had noted the same problem with wax buildup but did nothing. The first said it wasn’t too bad and would work its way out. The second doctor just told us to put a drop of mineral oil or olive oil in his ears and that would take care of it.

Dr. Lee did something different – he fixed the problem. He calmly told KJ to hold Ian’s arms and body tight and then, as the nurse held the little guy’s head, Dr. Lee inserted a long thin instrument into the ear. A very short time later, he pulled it out and inserted another instrument and brought out the offending clump of ear wax. It all took less than a minute.

Why the doctors we saw in Canada couldn’t do this is beyond me.

Next, Dr. Lee felt Ian’s neck and found the cause for the fever: swollen glands. He checked his throat for good measure but it was fine.

Now, you might think that an uninsured couple would pay a lot of money to receive such high-quality medical care for their toddler, but you would be wrong. Sure we paid full price, but full price is about $13. Getting the prescription filled? Another $7. Hardly worth the paperwork to get reimbursed by our travel health insurance provider.

Another shock for me was that the prescription was filled in three minutes! 

“In Korea, if it only takes three minutes to prepare your medicine then you only wait three minutes. They don’t make you wait twenty minutes like they do in Canada,” KJ said on the drive home. “Unless it takes twenty minutes to prepare it. But that’s not common.”

KJ’s mom told me doctors give such excellent prompt care because of the competition. There are lots of other doctors just on that one street and Korea as a whole has an ample supply, she told me. Anything less than top-notch service and a practice suffers.

I’m a citizen of Canada and the United States, two countries where health care is a pretty hot topic. Many Americans love to deride the Canadian healthcare system and Canadians are wildly enthusiastic about slamming the American system. Well, I can tell you America and Canada both have something to learn from Korea.

Canada can learn not to kick the can down the road and to speed up the delivery of care. Addressing the shortage of doctors so the ones we have aren’t so overworked would be a great start. America can learn to make care affordable. I don’t know enough to say where Korea’s healthcare system ranks in the world, but it sure seems good to this dad.

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