No Velvet Rope for Healthcare Abroad

06/26/2017 06:53 pm ET Updated Jun 27, 2017

By Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher, InternationalLiving.com

A recent article in the New York Times revealed a sad truth about the U.S. healthcare system.

Those with money can jump the line.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico
InternationalLiving.com
Playa del Carmen, Mexico

By paying an annual fee that equals just a little less than the annual median household income in the U.S., the well-to-do hire the services of concierge doctors and medical groups.

Patients have their doctor’s cell phone number and get same-day appointments. There are no insurance filings or referrals. Doctors make house calls, and will even meet patients at their offices or at airports before trips.

Keep in mind: The average wait for a doctor’s appointment for normal patients in the U.S. last year was nearly a month. Hence, the growing popularity of medical concierge services among those who can afford them.

Concierge doctors will also make appointments with top specialists for emergency operations instead of having their patients use the regular emergency room staffs everyone else must use.

The velvet rope definitely exists in U.S. healthcare, and those caught on the wrong side of it (the non-rich) can only look in longingly from the outside.

Which is one reason we’re so glad we reside outside the U.S. in a country with a healthcare system that is not only more affordable but infinitely more accessible than in the U.S.—Mexico.

We recently moved to Lake Chapala, a community south of Guadalajara. Chronic allergies became inflamed by the new flora we encountered, and one of us ended up with a severe sinus infection that threatened to become a major upper respiratory problem.

In most expat communities, the names of good service providers are shared like favorite recipes, and doctors are no exception. We got the office number of a local general practitioner and called for an appointment.

“Would 2:30 this afternoon be good?” the receptionist asked.

The doctor arrived shortly before 3 and took a look.

“Your allergies caused your nasal passages to swell, which makes a change in climate in your sinuses,” he said in perfect English. “That causes the usual balance of gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria to change in there, and the infection is soon literally locked in your head by your swollen nose.”

After taking the medical history himself, he provided a steroid shot on the spot and prescriptions for oral antibiotics and decongestants.

“This is my phone number,” he said, handing us his card. “If you have any problems with the medications, or you’re not feeling some relief in a day or two, call me.”

By 3:30 p.m. on the same day we called for an appointment, we were leaving the office with a diagnosis and a course of action.

At the front desk, the bill came to the equivalent of $68, including the steroid shot.

Adding in the cost of the 10-day course of antibiotics and decongestants, the total for our visit came to about $80.

For the price of dinner for two back in Omaha, we’d just gotten the kind of medical attention that rich people in the U.S. pay $30,000 to $40,000 a year to get.

And this is healthcare business as usual in Mexico—and in many other countries outside the U.S.

Prices are often so low that paying out of pocket is often more convenient than using the public healthcare system (which foreign residents can—and in some cases are required—to join).

And in the case of emergencies or complicated procedures, we know fellow expats who have been personally driven by their doctors to major medical facilities in Guadalajara to consult, on the spot, with the best specialists available.

Is this the case in every village and town in Mexico and throughout Latin America?

No.

But in every place we’ve lived with a sizeable population—and proximity to a city with major medical facilities—something like this has always been the case.

A normal doctor-patient relationship with a qualified general medical practitioner in Mexico is very much like the concierge medical services the upper class in the U.S. pay tens of thousands of dollars to receive, and that everyone else can only dream about.

This article comes to us courtesy of InternationalLiving.com, the world’s leading authority on how to live, work, invest, travel, and retire better overseas.

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