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Medicine in Mexico?

My parents live abroad year round. Half the year is spent in Mexico on a stretch of beach that is private and serene and where my mother can breathe and think with clarity, and my father is surrounded by like minded Sailing buddies, and the other half of the year on an “agri” in Tuscany, Italy, where my mother can expound on her culinary skills and my father can rejoice in the splendid table wine and cuisine. It is a marriage made in heaven, built on a foundation of almost 48 years and complete with all the family drama 3 kids and 7 grandchildren can bring to the table at any given time.

Visiting my parents is another story. So, Medicine in Mexico. My husband and I took our darling children (then 12 and 9) to visit the grandparents over holidays. While we looked forward to the joys of holidays spent in sun and basting in suntan oil, we never could have imagined someone would wake up one morning with a toothache. 

This was my husband’s first experience in travel out of the country and his first true trip deep into Mexico, and although he was happy under swaying palm trees and drinking cold Pacifico Beers, you could have heard a pin drop when it was suggested to him that he take his ailing self to a local dentist.  The look of initial sheer terror that over took his usual complacent, dimpled fun loving face was almost comical were it not for the sympathy pain I myself was experiencing right along with him.

My husband, who had always known Christmas time to come with layers of fresh snow and bitter cold, already had some adjustment issues with the idea that we were in Mexico and were it not for the few “Arbors” scattered about with colorful ornaments, you would not otherwise recognize it was Christmas (his FAVORITE holiday), add to it that we might suggest a Mexican Dentist in Mexico, and I was sure I was on the fast track to divorce as soon as we returned home.

It took some convincing that he would be perfectly safe, and a quick phone call to Dr. Morelos Chong, and within a few short hours (they were short to me, I was shopping) he was fixed good as new, and had a renewed dimpled smile on his face.  His favorite part about the entire procedure was not that the dentist was gentle, nor that his office was well staffed and clean, but that the entire procedure, replacement fill and prescriptions and all was $80.00.   I think he thought he had died and gone to heaven. For weeks all I heard was “if I had this in the states it would have been hundreds of dollars!!”

Dr. Chong, the son of a Mexican Mother and Chinese Mexican Immigrant father, studied in San Diego California and had a small practice in Mazatlan, and catered to all the expats living in Mazatlan in growing numbers.

Over the years, in my travels for business in and out of Mexico I have met what seems like hundreds of people coming and going from one destination or another for a medical procedure.  Dentistry, Plastic Surgery, Oncology, and Pulmonary Care, to name a few, are popular practices popping up throughout Mexico for the purpose of capitalizing on the incredibly inflated costs of healthcare in the United States and Canada.

Medical Tourism is a direct target market for the travel and tourism industry in Mexico, because as we face healthcare reform, and our probability of having a procedure approved through our insurance carriers diminishes in mass numbers, and the cost of dental work rises to “unaffordable” for the average person, the trip south of the border becomes a one-two punch. Bank your vacation and your medical needs all into one week and you have achieved both agenda’s. 

Couple this concept with the plastic, nip tuck, vain surgeries of the modern age, with the idea that recuperation from any and all of these procedures can be had under a palm tree or on the most magnificent beach in the world, and you have a winning combination.

Bariatric surgery, laser eye surgery, in vitro and fertility, all profit in Mexico on the multibillion dollar industry of  Medical Tourism.  Underscoring the trend, Mexican state governments are spending money to refurbish communities near these hospitals, hoping visiting patients will stay there while receiving medical care or even move there permanently. Such is the case in Santa Eulalia, Chihuahua, and Villa de Santiago, near Monterrey.

So, who are these hospitals and what makes them different?

Tecnologico de Monterrey, is a private university that owns San Jose Hospital. This company planned a $100 million medical center in Monterrey. Grupo Star Medica, the builder of seven Mexican centers in five years, is accelerating an expansion aimed at Americans, funded partly by a Mexican private investor.

Grupo Financiero Inbursa SAB. took a stake in Star Medica, a privately held hospital chain based in Morelia, Michoacan, in southern Mexico.  Grupo Empresarial Los Angeles, Mexico’s largest private hospital chain, is spent $700 million to build 15 hospitals over a period of three years, and Oca Hospital, a family-owned company in Monterrey, is building a 200-bed facility there. There are even U.S based hospitals stepping over the border to cash in on the industry. 

While money is without a doubt a driving force behind the phenomenal growth of this industry, there is one key component that matters even more. CARE.  When you travel into Mexico, and you immerse into the culture, you discover a people dedicated to LOVE and CARE that is extraordinary. We think, most of us, that it is trained in the hospitality industry when we experience it on vacation, but in truth, it is a way of life. It is the culture of Latin America.  There is a genuine desire on the part of the staff in these wellness care facilities, to extend the best possible care, and tender consideration to the patient, that is often forgotten here in the U.S.   Listen to someone tell the story of a general physical in the U.S and they will regale you with a story of a cold stethoscope and a cold personality who asks all the right questions, hears only half of what you said, and if you saw the commercial for the prescription on T.V and suggested it, he will write the RX for you, whether you needed it or not. Invariably he cannot remember your name and his PA isn’t much better.

Ask someone about their medical care in Mexico, like my father for example, and he will tell you about a Doctor who actually makes HOUSE CALLS, spends an hour talking about life, and the second hour talking about your health. He knows your name, your children’s names, memorized your list of ailments, and reminded you that you need more or less exercise. He knows who you are, how old you are, and he genuinely cares.

Enter into a Medical Center in Mexico and you get the same kind of care. A staff that know your name, remember your chart, track your progress and treat you like a person and NOT a number.  They have special care units of staff especially trained to handle concerns and cares. To talk to you and walk you through the procedure, and when they have to deliver bad news, they take you by the hand, look into your eyes and take a deep breath, because they know it’s hard to hear, and they care. Bedside manner is at a premium south of the border, and lost, sadly, here in our own country because we want to just move on, and bare no liability.

So, when you have to make decisions about your medical care, and you are deciding between spending $10,000 and a $600 roundtrip ticket for lap band surgery in Mexico, and $17,000 at home, or you are weighing a hip replacement in Mexico which costs $12,000, compared with $43,000 to $63,000 in the U.S. (according to a study by Christus Health published last year), or Angioplasty which costs $10,000 in Mexico, compared with $57,000 to $82,000 at an American hospital, with the recuperation and bedside manner, is it really so difficult to understand the growing trend in Medical Tourism in Mexico?

Not a tough sell for this blogger. When I finally gather my courage to unravel the topical map of child bearing left on what was once a beautiful abdomen complete with belly button, and lift the gravitational pull setting in the higher regions of that map, and insert a piece of BRAZIL into the genetically predisposed flat end I sit on, I am headed south of the border, because I want the vacation to recuperate and heal and a hand holder to listen to me moan. After all, its medical care, and frankly we deserve the CARE part, from pocket book to heart.

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