The Truth About Health Care in Ecuador

When my wife, Suzan, and I heard that we could get what is commonly called an “executive health assessment” in Quito, Ecuador, we decided to give it a try.

Our primary care physician, Dr. Davalos, works with Hospital Metropolitano in Quito to put together a comprehensive package of tests that cover all the health bases over a two-day period. This seemed like a great way to combine health and happiness to us… Living up north in the small town of Cotacachi, we looked forward to our executive health assessment as a good chance to get our big-city Quito fix of fun and food at the same time.

Our plan was to stay in one of our favorite hotels, Hotel Sebastian, during the two-day test period and enjoy the nightlife of the Mariscal neighborhood the night between our tests.

But by the end of the first day of blood drawing, sonograms, mammograms, x-rays, treadmill tests, and some tests on things we didn’t even know could or should be tested, we learned that we were staying in the hospital overnight. Not to enjoy the many gastronomic pleasures of Quito, but to prepare ourselves for the next day’s colonoscopy and endoscopy…

….a literal stem-to-stern look into the darkest recesses of our bodies that meant we had to spend the night making sure there was nothing left inside to block the view.

I’ll leave the rest to the imagination, but it wasn’t the night we had in mind. And not knowing we’d be staying at the hospital, we’d left all of our personal items in our room at Hotel Sebastian. No worries, though… one phone call to the hotel and all of our things were packed up and delivered directly to our hospital room by private courier. Hotel Sebastian charged us $6 to do so, but didn’t charge us for the room we’d booked for that night.

At the end of it all, Dr. Davalos and the specialists at Hospital Metropolitano had collected a mountain of data on us. A few days later we received it all in a folder, including all test results and a CD with the images taken during the exams, along with a detailed explanation by Dr. Davalos of what all the results meant.

Turns out we’re both healthy with no major medical issues. Good news.

We paid out of pocket for the health assessment in Ecuador, and the final bill for both of us, including the overnight in semi-private double room, was $3,951.39. I’ve compared this to prices for similar executive health assessments in the U.S., and I figure we paid about half the going U.S. rate—and far less if you factor in the overnight stay.

Lessons learned?

1. “Executive” means something different in Latin America. In the U.S., an executive health assessment is one that is done quickly in a spa-like atmosphere so the executive feels pampered and can return to his or her important business as quickly as possible.

In Latin America, or at least in Quito, Ecuador, an executive health assessment is one that includes as many tests as possible on someone who doesn’t necessarily need to be in the office for a few days.

2. If you’re curious about the specifics of any treatment you’re about to receive in Latin America… ask. If you don’t, it will be assumed—even by doctors with excellent English—that you will be a normal Latin American patient and happily do whatever you’re told to do by medical authorities when and for as long as you’re told to do it. We assumed we’d have the night between our test days free to do as we pleased. We were wrong, and it wasn’t Dr. Davalos’ fault for not telling us. It was our fault for not asking. But who knew…

3. After 12 years abroad, we’ve already learned this lesson, but it’s worth repeating: In almost any major metropolitan area throughout Latin America, you can get U.S. quality health care provided with modern equipment by world-class professionals for a fraction of the cost in the States.

Even though Suzan and I had to postpone our Quito restaurant binge until after our assessment, it was worth it. And if we never have another endoscopy or colonoscopy again, it will be too soon.

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