Overseas Emergency Medical Care Realities

While this story is about an experience in Guatemala, I feel it will help answer some typical questions.

One of the considerations of people moving from the first world to Nicaragua is access to medical care. Depending on where you come from, you may be asking about care directly or about medical insurance. This particular article offers a lot of insight. It includes experience with free emergency medical care and then private care. It includes details of what was done and the costs.

The article appears in The Motley Fool. Probably the most amazing thing is that 1/3 of the cost was for taxi rides.

Our unexpected medical journey over the last two months took us to Guatemala's national hospital, Pedro de Bethancourt, to a plastic surgeon in Guatemala City with his own personal operating room on the ninth floor and a panoramic view of the capital city below, to the inside of a hyperbaric chamber for oxygen therapy. We've visited an array of pharmacies for medicines, gauze, and splinting paraphernalia, and spent too many hours inside a personally hired taxi for our circuitous route from Antigua to Guatemala City.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

health care in Guatemala

Articles like these (which, granted, usually aren’t as detailed as this one is) are usually touting what real life is like for expats. In this case, the original story is via retire early lifestyle. The purpose is to show care and coresponding costs - to show potential expats what life is really like there. I don't believe it succeeds all that well on this level though. Not because the article is factually incorrect, but due to what is assumed and implied by this story and these places. Healthcare in Guatemala is not really like this, not on a regular basis nor in other locales. While I haven't been to Saint Pedro's for 8-9 years, things may have changed a good bit – but I doubt it. Because of its location (Antiqua, the popular overpriced tourist center of Guatemala), this hospital is not representative of health care available in the country, but the author does not spell this out. They did not get free Guatemalan medical care; they got free NGO-based medical care via a Guatemalan public hospital. This is important but few readers likely realize this. The hospital they ended up in far exceeds the norm. Even so, it is a grossly understaffed and often poorly supplied public hospital. They routinely benefit from sources as diverse as USAID, missionary hospital interns, Medical Student Aid Project, volunteer surgeons from an array of countries, the Cuban Medical Intern program, Project CURE, and internal medicine intern placement via the two best private medical colleges in Guatemala. This hospital is major recipient of donations and volunteers, and a fixture on medical mission people-and-product exchange boards. The hospital utilizes volunteer doctor teams from abroad for 8-10 months each year, most of whom are also there to study Spanish (in historic and well-off Antiqua). The hospital bears Bethancourt's name (and for good reason as Brother Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur, the "St. Francis of the Americas", he built the first Catholic hospital in Central America and died in Antiqua; he was Canonized by Pope John Paul II a decade or so ago). Any hospital bearing his name in Guatemala is likely not intended to be a free hospital for those who can afford to pay (the non-public ones have signs asking for donations from those who can afford to pay, so they may continue paying for those patients who cannot afford it). This article doesn't mention this. Per costs, the fact that someone working in medical tourism who was previously interviewed (actually, featured in an article that differs little from a commercial endorsement) was used to help them get a better price may call into question whether or not other walk-up customers with a similar injury receive similar prices (from a doctor who knew he was treating a journalist via a medical consultant, both of whom might expect a blog per their services?). And, as most readers would likely notice, the total billing package lists nearly $1k in private taxi fees, for the repeated 100km round trip visits. Had the injury happened in a city that size but not Antigua, the outcome might have been quite different; had the injury not happened 50km from Guate, the outcome might have been quite different; had the treatment not been facilitated by someone with a medical tourism business, the outcome may have been quite different.

Hard To Guess

what this would have cost in the US, but the $3K probably would not have covered the cost of the initial ER visit.

The "ensuite operating room" I found common in CR with upper end doctors doing cosmetic and other surgery. There will be an associated "hospital" that is used for recovery close by. This is not a hospital in the comprehensive sense, but simply someplace where you recover for a day or two under a watchful eye.