Medical Tourism - Have You Decided?

James L. Jones | Best of Best
Medical Tourism - Have You Decided?

image by: Jernej Furman

Are you still undecided about getting that medical procedure done outside the country instead of back home? Esmeralda's experience may help you!

Well, since this story begins with our driving into Queretaro, Mexico you’ve probably  figured out we went to Mexico. But before we made a decision to participate in medical tourism we checked out the prices back home.

Esmeralda had an Oregon based PPO individual policy that would cover her operation. So we went to a plan gynecologist in Portland and had her evaluated. The doctor ordered an ultrasound at an outside lab, and some lab work, examined her and asked us to come to his office for a consultation. As we were waiting in his consultation room I noticed some of his plaques, certifications, diplomas and licenses.  Dr. Plan, as I’ll call him, went to medical school in Guadalajara and was a member of the American Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians.   

Dr. Plan agreed Esmeralda needed a hysterectomy, he would be able to do it in about 6 weeks.  He thanked us for choosing him and indicated his front desk staff would fill us in on the details. Total cost, hospital and physician, would be $46,000, of which Esmeralda would pay $20,500 out of pocket.  The ultrasound and lab we’d had done would be a separate billing item and it would be a two day stay in the hospital. 

As we found out in Part I, Esmeralda would have been eligible for two of Mexico’s government sponsored health plans, IMSS and Seguro Popular. 

But, both had waiting periods of anywhere between 6 months and 3 years and might have required waivers from their coverage of pre-existing conditions.  Neither requires a physical exam but IMSS requires you to pass a questionnaire that asks about current and past health problems and can deny applications for prior conditions. As well, she elected not to go to the county hospital. 

We had received a referral to a gynecologist we’ll call Dr. A. from Esmeralda’s cousin who is a nurse at one of the IMSS clincs. “He’s very smart, and he’s handsome too.”  She had told us. He also spoke excellent English. 

As we were waiting for Dr. A. in his consultation room, I noticed his diplomas and licensures on the wall.  Amazing!  He went to the same Guadalajara medical school as Dr. Plan and was a member of the same American Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics. I had noticed certificates of membership in a sub-specialty of Reproductive Medicine in both offices also, but we were obviously not interested in that.   

Dr. A. listened to us, did a complete history and physical exam, performed his own ultrasound, then sat us down for a talk. He also agreed that Esmeralda needed a hysterectomy and told us the total cost would be $3600 dollars total, all payable by Esmeralda since she would not be using any insurance.  His consultation and ultrasound, the hospital, the OR people, the anesthesiologist, the pathologist, the food, and all the medicines were included in the $3600.  The hospital part of the $3600 was $1100 and included the two-day stay and all the nursing care. 

We agreed.  Dr. A. said we could pay him whenever we wanted, the hospital needed their cash up front, upon registration. He opened up his laptop. Asked a few more medical questions, then proceeded to type in his history and physical exam, accessed the hospital by internet, one of the newer private hospitals in the area, and checked the OR schedule. 

“How about Thursday, we’ve been a little busy lately.” It was Monday. We were to arrive at 6 AM and Esmeralda would be the first case of the day. He transmitted his medical record so it would be on the chart when we checked into the hospital and entered some pre-op orders. 

Esmeralda had a large private room, the TV was included in the hospital fee. And she had an uneventful 2-day stay.  The low point was the drive home. Mexico’s roads are riddled with potholes and the slightest bump was quite painful to her incision.  But we made it and had an uneventful postop visit with Dr. A in about a week. 

The Bottom Line

The only tip I would have for those who choose to have their procedures done in Mexico is to bring your own pain medicine and plan on using it liberally. They’re a little stingy on the pain medicine, not because they want to save money, but because they have an older philosophy on pain management, similar to ours in the U.S. 20 years ago before several reports showed physicians were undertreating pain in a lot of patients. Mexico will catch up, but until then bring your own pain medicine. 

Good luck with your trip and your procedure and don’t drive around or through Mexico. Best to fly and take a cab from the airport, the rental cars are clearly marked as such and sitting targets for whomever. Central Mexico is still safe and once you get there you should have an enjoyable stay and its best not to completely trust those guards who want to back you out of the parking places. But give them a tip anyway. 



J. Linder Jones MD MHA practiced emergency medicine for over two decades in Southern California and now writes as a senior correspondent for HealthWorldNet.

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