PERTH: Navigating an unfamiliar healthcare system


Freshly bought insulin, hooray!

Running out of insulin is never a really pleasant experience. The idea of running out of insulin while abroad has terrified me since before I left home. Luckily, the reality of the situation was a lot easier to deal with than I anticipated.

I am a Type 1 diabetic so I take insulin at least four times a day to keep my blood glucose levels in check. Blood glucose levels can fluctuate a great deal depending on what I’m eating, stress, the weather, etc. That being said, I brought enough insulin to last me my entire trip if everything went according to plan. Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting meals here to be so carb-loaded and I’ve had to deal with some stressful life stuff happening at home. Both of these have caused me to use more insulin than expected.

Just in case, I decided to go to a doctor’s office recommended by my uni. The day before my scheduled appointment the office called and asked if I wanted to come in early which was pretty awesome.

I’ll spare you guys all of the boring details of my actual appointment and prescription acquiring in favor of telling you the differences, or lack thereof, I noticed.

First, I couldn’t buy an insulin pen over-the-counter here as I do at home. I wasn’t actually surprised by this because I already knew that you also have to ask for basics like ibuprofen and cold medicine from behind the counter too. All of these behind-the-counter items come complete with a lecture from the pharmacist on proper usage and the dangers of overuse. Weird.

I was also a little taken aback that I had to wait on my doctor to finish her tea break before seeing me. Who takes a tea break in the middle of the work day with patients waiting?

I also totally forgot that Australia uses a different unit of measurement for blood glucose levels than the U.S. and ended up laughing hysterically with my nurse as we searched the web for a reliable conversion chart.

I only saw the doctor for five minutes. It was very much the sort of in-and-out I expect from a busy doctor’s office. There were a lot more similarities than differences between going to the doctor here and at home.

Getting my actual medicine from the pharmacy was essentially the same as at home. I was pleasantly surprised that the pharmacist had no problem stopping and speaking to me at length about the differences between our medical systems because they weren’t busy.

(Fun fact: I have yet to meet an Australian who doesn’t love talking to me about Australia and it’s great.)

One of the more striking points of our conversation was how strongly he felt about the U.S. having universal healthcare. When I mentioned that not everyone was happy about Obamacare requiring health insurance for all, he was visibly disgusted which surprised me because I didn’t think anyone outside the U.S. really cared about our healthcare system.

He also explained that the Medicare provided to every citizen by the Australian government helps ensure that everyone can afford medication regardless of their situation. I still had to pay more than I would at home for a box of insulin, about $80 AUD, but that was a lot less than I was expecting with no insurance.

As it turns out, the idea of having to navigate an unfamiliar healthcare system was a lot scarier than the actual reality. Thank goodness.