“Doctors in Cuenca, Ecuador Even Answer Their Own Phones…”

"Doctors in Cuenca, Ecuador Even Answer Their Own Phones..."

Imagine a country where a doctor personally greets you and takes you into his small office for a consultation. Where you have his personal cell number and most “appointments” are drop-by visits with no waiting around. A place where that doctor makes house calls and you won’t be charged for any follow-up visits to the office…

Welcome to health care in Ecuador—where most medical staff are U.S.- or European-trained and everything costs a fraction of what health care does back home.

Back in Georgia I was doing well as a sales professional, but, like many other folks in the U.S., I found myself at once downsized and caught in the crosshairs of the economic downturn. But rather than stumble to the finish line doing unfulfilling work for sub-standard pay, I figured out a way to turn in the keys early…

I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador. I did it for all the right reasons—and discovered an exciting new life beyond the curtain of fear that keeps most people stuck at home. I’ve been living here for two years now, and my expat experience thus far has vastly exceeded expectations that were pretty high to begin with.

One of the most impressive aspects of life in Ecuador is the quality and affordability of health care. People sometimes compare day-to-day living here to the way it was in the U.S. back in the ‘50s. In the field of medical care, there is an element of truth to that.

Instead of reams of paperwork, with a bloated staff to handle it, impersonal service, and exorbitant prices, health care during my two years in Cuenca has meant excellent treatment, low costs, and simplicity.

Take my first visit to an Ecuadorean doctor. I had only been here a short time. I was a little anxious. There was nothing wrong with me—I hoped!—I was just going for a physical. But not knowing the doctor, where his office was, or how the medical system worked in Ecuador meant I was a little on edge.

As I’d been told, a receptionist near the elevator collected my payment ($25), gave me a receipt, and directed me to his office. I opened the door to walk into the waiting room…except it wasn’t a waiting room. I found myself standing in the doctor’s small office as he talked with a patient across his desk. Oops.

I sheepishly retreated and took a seat in the hallway. A few minutes later, the doctor came out and invited me in. He never handed me “the clipboard” with multiple pages of personal history and insurance information to fill out.

Instead, he politely asked me how he could help. After an interview, he escorted me back to the examining room right behind his office. “Where are his nurses?” I wondered. It turns out doctors don’t have staff other than a shared receptionist. Dentists often have an assistant but personally do all the procedures, even cleanings.

His portion of the examination completed, he wrote instructions for a blood profile and X-ray and sent me across the street to an adjacent building. The lab technician drew the blood and told me to come back after lunch to pick up my results. Then the X-ray tech finished his work and handed me the X-ray.

I paid about $170 for both services, went to lunch, picked up my lab results, and took everything back to the doctor that same afternoon. (There is no payment for follow-up visits that occur even weeks later, by the way.)

These are only a few of the pleasant surprises I’ve discovered since that first encounter with Ecuador’s medical system two years ago. Another surprise is that when my wife or I want to visit a doctor, we call him on his cell phone to find out when he will be in his office. That’s right; his personal cell phone.

Editor’s note: This report on Ecuador health care, including costs for house visits, medicines, face lifts and more, appears in full in the premium-level IL website, only available to subscribers of International Living magazine. Subscribe now for instant access.

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