YOU CAN AFFORD TO GET SICK HERE: MEDICAL CARE IN CUERNAVACA
I am often disgruntled by travel articles, especially those advising Americans on the best places to retire, that lack information on health services and medical care. Some of the magazines specializing in this genre seem to glorify medically-challenged remote places like coastal Ecuador or the interior of Belize, perhaps only coincidentally related to the real estate companies that advertise on their pages. In my promoting Cuernavaca, Mexico, I have never had to exaggerate the high quality of medical services here.
Emergency care is of particular interest to tourists and temporary residents like Spanish-language students for which the city is famous. One can dial 066 for all emergency services and, in a medical emergency, request an ambulance. If you are able to take a taxi, the best choice for rapid attention is Cruz Roja, Red Cross (Rio Pánuco corner Los Volcanes, tel. 315 3505 or 3515). The cost of a consulta is just 70 pesos ($5.85 US at the current rate of exchange of about 12 pesos to the dollar). X-rays, EKG, and lab tests are extra but a fraction of the cost for those services in the States. Resident physicians are on duty 24 hours; some specialists keep regular office hours there, and other specialists are on-call. One physician told me that Red Cross has the best traumatologists. So if you are careless like me and put a deep gash in your finger while trimming bushes, you will be sewed up and bandaged quickly, and depart with instructions on changing the dressing and a prescription for an antibiotic and pain killer in half an hour. That can take much longer during the late-night/early-morning hours on a weekend when the battered victims of bar fights and car accidents tend to accumulate. (I am wary of donating cash to Red Cross collections on the street, so whenever I visit the clinic I make an additional donation there).
But you don’t need to have an emergency to go to Red Cross. If you have concerns about your blood pressure, blood sugar, a muscular pain, or some other medical issue and you don’t have a local physician, take yourself to Cruz Roja, pay the 70 pesos, and put yourself in good hands. If the attending physician feels a specialist is in order, you will be referred to one, possibly one with regular hours at the clinic. Should the attending physician believe hospitalization is in order, attendants will bring in a gurney and wheel you next door to Hospital Henri Dunant, one of the best in the city (Rio Pánuco 100, tel. 316 7992).
Ten years ago I took a taxi to Cruz Roja suffering from intense abdominal pain and vomiting. I was rushed to radiology where x-rays showed a blocked intestine. I was hospitalized immediately and seen by a gastro-intestinal surgeon who was able to use a non-surgical technique to unblock the intestine. The cost for two nights hospitalization and physician care was less than $500 US. The bill in a U.S. hospital would have been in the thousands of dollars and surgery might have been performed instead of the non-surgical technique. That was a long time ago, but hospital rooms today cost between 1100 and 3500 pesos per night, so a brief stay will not break the bank. Henri Dunant has a cardiology unit and liaison with Clínica Cárdica which specializes in cardiology, including emergency and therapeutic care (Alta Tensión 580, Col. Cantarranas, tel. 310 0012).
Another outstanding hospital, Inovamed, has an excellent emergency room and a full range of specialized services except a cardiovascular unit (Calle Cuauhtémoc 305, Bajada del Túnel, tel. 311 2482 to 88). A tour client of mine was rushed to Inovamed with chest pains, fearing a heart attack. Within twenty minutes she had a EKG and a thorough exam resulting in a diagnosis of hiatal hernia. She was kept overnight for observation and her total cost was $150 US but that was ten years ago. Prominent politicians and artists who have had accidents or need emergency care are often taken to Inovamed. Many people regard it as the best in the city, but an administrator at Henri Dunant insists that his hospital has experienced far more recent upgrades and is superior Regardless of which of the two hospitals is better, it’s great to know there are such excellent options. Fortunately I have not had experience at any other hospitals here but would be grateful for comments from readers who have.
If one has the time to drive to nearby Mexico City, the highest recommendation goes to Hospital Ángeles-Lomas (Avenida Vialidad de la Barrranca s/n, Col. Valle de las Palmas, off the highway to Querétaro, tel.55-5246 5000). This is “easily the best hospital in Mexico,” according to Drs. Robert H. Page and Curtis P. Page, in their book Mexico, Health and Safety Travel Guide (Med to Go, 2007). My friend at Henri Dunant agrees.
There are outstanding medical specialists in Cuernavaca, and I list some of them in my guidebook. But having inherited eye problems, I want to give special mention to Ophthalmologists: Drs. Jorge Erazo Salgado and Jorge Erazo Gaona (father and son) who provide excellent services including surgery and emergency laser treatment (Morelos Sur 215, tel. 314 2073). A few years ago I experienced floaters in my right eye. Since my father had two detachments and lost vision in one eye, I rushed to their office and was attended to within twenty minutes. Dr. Erazo Gaona said it was a hemorrhage and I needed laser surgery to prevent a detachment. I panicked since I had to meet a group of 38 tour clients the next day at the Mexico City airport. Dr. Erazo told me to relax, come back for the surgery after office hours, and I would be fine in the morning. He has a laser in the office and was able to seal the retina, but I had to wait for the blood to recede before he could do two further treatments to be sure no detachment would occur. The cost of the 6 visits and three treatments was $300 US. A physician friend was very pleased with Lasix surgery by Dr. Erazo Gaona and he was delighted to throw away his glasses.
Medical tourism is a growing specialty in Mexico and Cuernavaca physicians ought to be considered for those seeking to escape non-insured high costs in the U.S. That includes excellent plastic surgeons offering a full array of treatments including relatively inexpensive hair transplants. Since I don’t do drag, I haven’t tried the breast implants, but a friend is thrilled with hers.
Many U.S. residents cross the border into Mexico for dental care since it is so much less expensive than in the U.S, or Canada. Indeed, a recent visitor from Vancouver needing extensive work found he could pay for a vacation in Cuernavaca with what he saved in costs. Many dentists have been educated in the States and fly north for continuing-education clinics.
Another wonderful feature in Mexican cities are inexpensive walk-in clinical laboratories. Without a prescription one can have a variety of blood, urine, and fecal tests. There are scores of these labs all over Cuernavaca. You pay a deposit and the balance when you pick up the results, or pay in advance and they fax the results to your physician.
Perhaps my personal anecdotes don’t match the experience of other residents and ex-pats in Cuernavaca, and there is a space for comments on my blog. But I think we would all agree that one can live here with confidence in the care available. I have no experience with cancer treatments and would appreciate hearing from anyone who does.
A former colleague of mine retired to another city in Mexico more favored in the travel literature. A few years ago she returned to the States because, she claimed, three of her friends died who wouldn’t have died had better medical care been available. I suspect there were other circumstances affecting her decision to move, but I doubt anyone living in Cuernavaca has such worries.
Another health benefit is that many prescription drugs are less expensive in Mexico than the co-pay for the same medications in the U.S. Some of my tour clients bought Retin A without a prescription at a fraction of the cost in the U.S. Many people living on the border drive across for medical and dental clinics and pharmacies. Some pharmacies even have doctors on duty to write prescriptions in the case of the few medications that require them like antibiotics and barbiturates.
To end on a lighter note, sildenafil (generic Viagra) is now sold over-the-counter in Mexico for just 30 pesos a pill (compared to 25 dollars each in the States). It’s not just for erectile disfunction any longer since young men have discovered its all-night-party benefits. And the poor no longer have to resort to spray starch. Perhaps this will motivate a visit to Mexico by former Senator and failed presidential candidate Bob Dole, who became the television voice for Viagra in the States. But don’t expect to see his wife, former Senator Elizabeth Dole, since she is probably experiencing frequent headaches. Salud!
For more information on Cuernavaca and health care recommendations, see James J. Horn, CUERNAVACA, A GUIDE FOR STUDENTS & TOURISTS, electronic edition, 2013, www.amazon.com.