On the most recent International Living Discovery Tour to Ecuador we were joined by a 93-year-old reader. The guy was unstoppable, para-sailing, mountain climbing... seemingly indestructible... until he simply stepped off the bus and banged his head on the door.
The reason I'm telling you all this? Believe it or not, in all the years that I've been involved in Discovery Tours to Ecuador, we've never really had a medical emergency. So in the way that sometimes mishaps can be fortuitous, this minor accident allowed me a birds eye view of Ecuadorian medical care... and I liked what I found.
We rushed Paul to the emergency room where we happily discovered the cut was far less severe than it looked. Quite a few stitches later and with some medicine, our near centenarian was comfortably back in his hotel room.
Then I looked at the bill. $15 for the visit and the stitches, and another five bucks for the medication. "Thats all?," I questioned? In the U.S. we aren't even allowed to think the word hospital for 20 bucks!
Just how good is the medical care?
The whole experience prompted me to explore just how good and inexpensive are medical services in Ecuador?
I had spotted a new hospital near the U.S. military base in Manta. One of the other IL readers on the tour is an old-timer M.D. with 40 years of general surgery under his belt so I decided to take him along for his professional opinion.
At the Clinica de Especialidades Medica San Gregorio we were courteously met and accompanied by the hospital president, Dr. Maria Brito, and an English speaking Dr. William Gordon.
The hospital was very clean with four operating rooms and three incubators for premature babies, and an intensive care unit. The emergency area has three rooms, one for critical cases, the other two general. There are 27 fully equipped specialty areas with medical names I wouldn't
understand in English or Spanish. The hospital has full x-ray and computerized ultrasound, a general laboratory, microbiology and blood work labs. They also have laproscopic, video gastropathy, and endoscopic therapy, physiotherapy, full gym, hydrotherapy, sauna, hot wax, vapor, a pathology lab, and a two-bed burn center.
There are twenty rooms, all private, ranging in price from $10 to $20 dollars a night. Why stay at a hotel? There is also a full kitchen, a cafeteria, and a pharmacy.
But I'm not a doctor so I asked my friend how he would feel if he woke up in the morning and discovered he were a patient in this place. "Good," he said. "It's not state of the art, but they practice good medicine here. The prices are unbelievably cheap too." We'd been told that they recently did a hip replacement for an American here and the total cost was only $7,000. That's about a tenth what it would cost in the U.S.
If the medical care was as good as it seemed, I decided it would be worth my while to check out dentistry in Ecuador. I had heard good reports from various people. A friend had recommended Dr. Marco Jiminez in Quito so my wife Merri and I paid him a visit.
We both needed our teeth cleaned and Merri had lost some crowns (which had cost many thousands of dollars in the U.S.) that had not lasted very long. Dr. Jiminez's offices were near Quito airport. His reception was clean, but in no way fancy. The receptionist was very courteous but we noted that patients did not arrive late. One that did come in behind schedule was rebooked and sent packing.
Excellent hygiene and modern equipment
Two dentists worked in the offices and Merri was treated first. Her work was extensive and she had to return five times over the next week to finish and fit her crowns. I had my teeth cleaned (prophylaxis as it's called in the U.S.) and some work on two abscess in the roof of my mouth. Everything went smoothly and I was finished a bit over an hour later.
Incidentally, Dr. Jiminez also had the wonderful, tiny television camera (Lester-Dine Inc. Oral Scan) that instantly displayed all of my teeth in full living color (at no extra cost), plus used a Fotona Medical laser. I noticed that everything came out of a Steri-Dent sterilizer. All was spotless. Dr. Jiminez explained that he obtains most of his equipment and materials from Germany as they were often superior to that available in the U.S. (He is a member of the Dental Association of America however).
And now for the cost: The bill came to $100$20 for the cleaning which was performed with
some sort of sonic instrument, and $40 for laser surgery on each of the infections. I paid the bill with my U.S. Visa card. The last time I had my teeth cleaned in the U.S. it cost $175. So I saved at least $155 and that didnt even include the cost of the laser surgery. The service and equipment were first class. Dentists, not hygienists do the cleaning in Ecuador. This is not as profitable for the dentist but means that a more experienced and better-trained person worked on my mouth.
But Merri's work was where we really saw big savings. She had four porcelain crowns, plus two photo-cured resin fillings and her teeth cleaned for a grand total of $420. (Each crown was $95.)
Furthermore, the dentist went out of his way to accommodate Merri knowing that we were on a limited schedule.
This cost was thousands less than we would have paid in the U.S. and my immediate thought was this is a way to spend a week or two in Ecuador free. Certainly our savings on this dental care exceeded the cost of our trip.
Since we've had the work done we've talked to many others who've confirmed our opinion
that it is possible to get professional medical care at an excellent price in Ecuador. An American friend (who in his eighties left Baltimore in the U.S. for Ecuador) told us that his M.D. in general
medicine, who speaks fluent English, French, German, and Spanish, is outstanding. His usual fee is $10 and a consultation may take up to an hour of his time. Certainly for a doctor to spend such time with a patient in the U.S. seems to be a thing of the past. And when was the last time a doctor's bill was $10?
And it seems that Ecuadorian medicine has so far avoided the trap of fear of lawsuits infringing on medical care. When I spoke to one U.S. doctor, Dr. Lance Evans, who formerly worked with the Peace Corps and decided to stay and practice in Ecuador he told me, "I could not practice Medicine in the U.S. because doctors are required to practice defensive medicine. But the defense is for the doctor not the patient. Here I can do what I feel is right and not what I think will avoid a lawsuit or please an insurance adjuster."
He did tell me that he is not getting rich (he is a Patch Adams type who runs a clinic that treats many of the poor), but he loves every minute of what he is doing. He also explained that you can get almost any kind of medical service in the major cities (Quito and Guayaquil), just not as easily as in the U.S. "When you get here, search for the kind of medical attention you need. Plan this in advance and you wont have a problem."
He stated that, though the Hospital Metropolitano is the largest and superbly equipped, he practices at and prefers the Hospital Los Andes, which is smaller. The doctors know every nurse and can pay great attention to every detail.
Despite drawbacks (for example, you need a translator at some dentists), I believe you can get an excellent standard of health care in the major cities of Ecuador and in most outlying areas as well. (Don't push this too far by looking for care deep in the Amazon jungles.) And you will save enormous sums of money (especially if you are uninsured).
One final note: The nature of Ecuador's people is essentially sweet. This is reflected in the medical care available in this country where you may find a warmer, more caring type of medical service. In this age where faster is better (for business) and where cold, medical specialization dominates, this caring attitude goes a long way. IL
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Contributed by International Living