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May 12, 2016 6:56 am

My First Time Experiencing Israel’s Health-Care System

avatar by Eliana Rudee / JNS.org

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Rambam Hospital in Haifa. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Rambam Hospital in Haifa. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – It all started with a pain in my neck. Traveling in the Czech Republic, I woke up with a very sore neck that radiated down my back. A few ibuprofens later, I was fine. But when I returned to Israel, the pain came back and lingered.

As I tried to clean for Passover, my back stopped letting me bend down. I waited a week and decided to go to an orthopedic doctor. A CT scan and many ibuprofens later, I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my lower back.

As I looked up “herniated disc” and its treatments on WebMD (never a good idea), I freaked out. How could this happen to me at such a young age? I have always been so sporty — will I need to give up the things I love? What about my dancing? And working out? I need to travel soon! How can I afford an MRI if I need to get one in the United States? Do I even have healthcare there still? What if I need physical therapy, or worse — surgery?

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Haunted by these questions, I felt somewhat helpless for the first time since moving to Israel. After all, I am leaving so soon to travel for a month and a half away from Israel and don’t have time to deal with this. Moreover, my identity has always revolved around being active — what would I become if I cannot continue to do the things I love? This question threw me into an existential crisis, which will probably continue until I get this pain under control.

Thankfully, the medical system here is quite good. It’s also pretty different from the American system. First, appointments are only supposed to last 10 minutes. This is probably why a doctor can fit so many visits into one day, and also why it’s so easy to a see a doctor within a day or two of requesting an appointment. It only took a week between the time I had my preliminary appointment with the orthopedist to the time I had a CT scan and diagnosis. The 10-minute appointments are really great for minor issues, but can be frustrating if you have many questions.

In addition, I pay very little for my health-care coverage. For the mid-range health care option I chose, I pay just over $10 per month. In Israel, you choose the health care company you prefer and all of your insurance is through them. I chose Maccabi health care. The closest branch to my house is only five minutes away! When I call for an appointment, I usually get one for the next day.

In order to get the diagnostics test, I had to get an approval from the central insurance company of Maccabi. They granted me approval within 24 hours, and I scheduled a CT scan at Haddasah Ein Kerem Hospital a few days later. The next business day, I was back with my doctor who, in 10 minutes, diagnosed my problem.

So far, only one doctor out of three I have seen since I’ve been here did not speak English. And one of the two doctors who did speak English chided me for not speaking Hebrew to him after being in Israel for almost 10 months. I could certainly communicate with him for simple things, but when it comes to medical issues, I want to understand everything. Given that I do not know any medical terms in Hebrew and this is kind of an important issue, I’d rather start speaking in English. After I explained this to him, he understood, but still seemed to judge me.

The next time I saw this doctor, I started by speaking in Hebrew to him and then switched to English as soon as we began discussing the medical aspects. It seemed to work — he became much nicer. One funny moment happened when I asked him how to best take care of my back, considering I will be traveling on two international flights and three cross-country flights in the next 10 days. He suggested that I don’t go, or make sure I have a night layover in London (neither of which is happening). He also advised me to go to a hot spring in Florida. I found that pretty funny, because he (like most Israelis) has no idea how far Florida is from Seattle.

As I attempt to take care of my back until I can return to Israel for some physical therapy, I am off to Washington, DC, and Hawaii for vacation, and finally to Seattle, my other home! This will be my first time back to Seattle since my aliyah 10 months ago (and most importantly, the first time seeing my dog since then). Although I’ll be missing a lot in Israel over the next month and a half, including Israel’s Independence Day, I’m sure my month in Seattle will bring many insights into life as it was versus how it is now as a new immigrant to Israel.

Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.

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  • Ephraim

    Israel’s health system is great. Never had a problem seeing a doctor, or getting authorization for any tests or treatments. It’s all good.

  • Jay Lavine

    It is extremely difficult for non-medical people to evaluate medical care other than how they appear to be treated as a person.

  • BZ Benjaminson

    The writer gives a reasonably accurate description of the better points of the Israeli health care system. Just about everything is virtually free! An amazing gift.

    However…I would like to point out that the Ministry of Health ought to increase its budget for two kinds of services

    1. Psychological support for patients with severe or terminal illnesses
    2. Rehabilitation including physiotherapy

    I have both cancer and ALS, and through direct experience I have found that these two types of services are severely lacking, in terms of staffing level and number of beds.

    Ministry of Health, please listen to the patients!

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