any of your gringo friends that you are thinking about retiring somewhere
South of the border and you're going to hear the inevitable question,
“What will you do if you get sick down there?” The reaction will be even
stronger if you are younger and thinking of moving your family somewhere
in Latin America. When it comes to health care, it is as if some
people imagine all doctors, hospitals, and clinics disappearing
into some deep dark chasm anywhere south of Brownsville, Texas. Actually
nothing could be further from the truth. After living in Latin America
for over a decade I say it is easier to get good health care here than
in the US. And believe me I've had experience to back that statement up.
Our family had a variety of health problems before we moved and even though
our health is actually better now because of our back to basics lifestyle,
we've had more than our fair share of medical attention while living south
of the border.
actually live in the tiny country of Belize on
the Caribbean coast, but since we live on the Northern tip of the country
we are only about 12 miles from Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo,
Mexico, so this is where we go most often for medical care.
Over the years,
our family has had the following medical and dental procedures
done here: Four root canals, numerous fillings, caps and crowns,
3 types of surgery, one oral, one outpatient, and one more serious
abdominal surgery requiring several days hospitalization. We've had
emergency room treatment 3 times, one time included a broken arm. We have
undergone a medley of tests including, x-rays, ultrasounds, blood
tests, throat culture, mammograms, pap smears, and colonoscopies.
We have consulted
with all sorts of specialists including gastroenterologist, ophthalmologists,
orthopedic surgeons, pediatricians, gynecologists, neurologist, ear, nose
and throat (which in Spanish is “otorrinololarringologia”) even a specialty
that we didn't know existed, a pediatric endodontist.
We can say
without any reservations that we've never had better medical care in our
lives. Over the years we have periodically gone back to the US and have
at times during those visits gotten medical care, ranging from check-ups
to surgery. Nearly every time we've regretted it, and wished we would
have taken care of it in Mexico. Why? Several reasons:
that we usually go to has several different specialists all under one roof.
They see patients
Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. until about 1:00 p.m. and later in the
day from 5 p.m., and on Saturday from 9. until or 2. You never need
an appointment, you go in and give your name to the receptionist
and she will tell you how many people are ahead of you, then you can judge
how long the wait will be. If there's only a couple of patients on the
list I'll stay in the clinic practicing my Spanish by reading magazines
or watching the television set that almost all “consultorios”
(doctor's offices) have. They will either be showing “novelas” the
torrid Mexican soap operas that come on in the evening or maybe an American
film with Spanish subtitles, which is my favorite way to take a language
lesson. If there are several people ahead of me I'll walk across the street
to the supermarket and do my grocery shopping and/or get a bite to
Is this inconvenient?
Granted, it is different from what I was used to in the US, not having
a set appointment, but the bottom line is, I know when I need to see the
doctor I can see him right away, I don't have to wait weeks for an appointment.
Once I see
the doctor, if any tests need to be done, there's a lab as well as a radiology
and ultrasound facilities on site, with an actual doctor of radiology there
to read the tests and write the report.
that you can see your doctor, tell him you have a pain, he writes the orders,
and 45 minutes later you're back in his office with the results of your
blood work, x-ray and ultrasound in hand, with out ever leaving the building.
In the US my
experience has been that after waiting weeks to see the doctor
I then had to wait weeks to get an appointment for an ultrasound, then
after it was taken I had to wait another week or two while the films were
sent to a doctor at another facility (who had never seen me) to read
and then write a report which was then sent to my doctor, who I would
then have to pay again to tell me what was wrong with me in the first place.
Is this efficiency? Not to mention the stress of having to wait weeks to
find out results of medical tests nor to mention the danger of having to
wait so long for a definitive diagnosis.
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care in Mexico is unbelievably inexpensive by almost anyone's standards.
Of course prices vary according to the region and whether you go to a private
clinic or a government run facility. Here are some random prices from private
clinics in Chetumal in US dollars:
surgery and appendectomy using video laporoscopy. Including 4 day hospital
stay in private room , all fees of surgeon and anesthesiologist , medication.
in a hospital,
||$50 per day
|Exam and consultation
with a specialist,
||$50 per tooth
know an elderly American woman living in Belize who had an operable brain
tumor. After consulting with doctors in the US
she decided to have the operation done by a neurosurgeon in Merida, Mexico,
the capital of Yucatan. The surgery was a complete success and a bargain
How many people
do you know in the US who can afford to choose their own doctor and pay
for health care services out of their own pocket? Isn't this a luxury reserved
only for the richest of rich now? Aren't most of us at the mercy of an
HMO? Being told which doctors we can see and how often and which medical
procedures we can have done? Or even worse off are the millions of uninsured
Americans, just praying that nobody in the family gets sick, because they
know they can't afford to
pay the medical
bills. So while cost isn't the only factor to be considered when
making health care decisions, it certainly does matter to some extent.
After all a country can have all of the latest medical
available but if you can't afford it what good does it do you?
If your only
experience in Latin America has been visiting Tijuana for a day, you are
in for a big surprise. The hard-working professionals who stay or return
home after studying abroad to make their country a better place are
really the unsung heroes of Latin America... and the reason the health
care system is so “user friendly”
also by nature a warm, caring people and I think that this helps to make
them in general great doctors and nurses.
As you can
see from the prices quoted above, for the most part, a person becomes
a doctor in Latin America not to become rich , but to help people.
That very fact makes him or her a better doctor. They actually care about
their patients and want to help them. Also, they want you as a foreigner
to think well of them and their country. What's more they'll treat you
as an equal. . . that whole doctor/god complex that so many people complain
about in North America is gone in Latin America.
In fact as
a patient you have so much more freedom because your health care is literally
in your own hands. In Latin America you can walk into a lab and ask for
any test that you'd like without a doctor's order, or go into any pharmacy
and buy whatever medication you'd like without a prescription. When your
tests results come back you go and pick them up and show them to your doctor
not, vice versa. Your doctor will have you keep your x-rays, ultra-sounds
etc., they are yours not his and you can do whatever you like with them,
including show them to another doctor.
that they will be unable to communicate with a doctor in Latin America,
but most doctors can speak at least enough English to figure out
what your problem is and many speak it quite well. Many doctors
have studied abroad. The fact that both English and Spanish
are Latin based languages and that doctors study Latin in medical school
seems to help. Also many Spanish speaking doctors have learned to read
English in order to read medical journals. And many clinics in Latin
America have someone on staff who can translate, some even staff a translator.
Over the years
we've occasionally led tour groups of people interested in retiring in
this part of the world. As part of the tour we show them the medical and
dental facilities available. We were amazed at the number of people who
would stay on after the tour to have extensive dental work done in Chetumal.
They liked what they saw and took advantage of it. All of the equipment
in the dental clinic is from the US and the materials used are from Europe,
and as the dentist says “Only the hand is Mexican”
in Latin America certainly won't appeal to everyone, some will feel
a medical assistant in a mini-skirt and platform sandals is just too unprofessional.
But for some of us it is a refreshing alternative that we readily embrace.
Claire Gray are the authors of “Belize Retirement Guide: How to Live
in a Tropical Paradise on $450 a month” As well as numerous articles and
reports on living in Latin America.
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