Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Experience with the Argentine Medical System

As you may know, I was diagnosed as hypothyroid, which means I have to consult with an endocrinologist, take meds every day, and go get my blood checked once every few months. I have done all this here in Buenos Aires, so I thought I would give a little summary of what the experience has been like.

Argentina has a national health system, which is free for its citizens. I have heard two things about this: 1) It's free for everybody and isn't that great, and 2) Don't use it if you can avoid it, especially the hospitals. They also have a private health system, which can be paid for with insurance, or by cash.

Since the cost is low enough for me, I pay cash. It's simple. No forms, no hassles, and you know how much everything costs. No one turns you down for anything. I get the tests I want. (Libertarian rant: Does anyone who is in favor of national health care consider that if health care is nationalized it will go the way of eduction--crappy? That seems to be the case here. The private system is superior.)

I got diagnosed with Hashimoto's when I went to an OB/GYN for a regular yearly exam. He asked me how I was feeling generally, and when I said fatigued, he sent me for some blood tests. He has a small office in a high-rise building run by just him and his secretary. I never wait more than two minutes past my appointment time. He never has more than one patient at a time in the waiting room. It's quiet, comfortable, and I pay around $200 pesos per consultation (about $55 bucks). This is pricey. He is very exclusive. His office is five blocks from my apartment. But he is wonderful, and he practiced for years in Chicago.

I go for the blood tests at a lab 1 1/2 blocks from my apartment, taken by a little old man who has been doing it for years. There is no one else in the lab. I am in and out in ten minutes. I pick up the blood tests MYSELF a couple days later. I bring them to the doctor. I think my thyroid tests cost me $50 pesos ($14 dollars).

This is a major difference here. With a few exceptions, I have picked up my lab results for a mammogram, thyroid ultrasound, and blood tests myself. I keep them myself. They are owned by me. It is a little more work on my part to get them and keep track of them, but I can take them to a different doctor if I want, or research the numbers myself online. My thyroid biopsy was done at a hospital, and they kept the results because it is the hospital where the endocrinologist practices.

My endocrinologist is a $20 peso taxi ride out to another neighborhood. She is excellent. Like the OB/GYN, she spends time talking to me, writing all my information down by hand on an index card. She speaks English (just got back from a conference in the U.S.) She charges $70 pesos per consultation (about $20 dollars). She gives me the change out of her pocket. She writes me a prescription for some medicine, and I go to the pharmacy down the block for it. I don't even have to show them the scrip. I just tell them what I want and they give me a box of bubble-wrapped capsules. $14 pesos (about $4 dollars-- granted, this medicine is cheap in the States, too.)

I need to go through the blood test/endo appointment thing about every three or four months, and go back to the OB/GYN each year.

So this is my experience-- good health care, low cost (at least for me. I know my financial situation here makes me very lucky), extremely efficient. I feel more in control of my health here than I did in the States.


Anonymous said...

I hope your treatment is going well. The private is not better. The buildings, the hotel-like services, the paperwork is better in the private clinics but if you have a real serious health problem the public hospitals in Argentina is where the best scientist of each medicine specialty are.You probably already heard that the best doctors are from the Buenos Aires public university. I think it is not perfect but the public education and public health system in Argentina works but it is abandoned the deficiencies could be fixed if politicians decide to do so. For Cancer treatment you don't want to go to some random private clinic.

Julia said...

Thanks for your response. It is very difficult to make generalizations about public vs. private from anecdotal evidence. I haven't heard about the best doctors being at public hospitals. The only hospital experience I have had was at a private hospital (Hospital Aleman) in which I thought the doctors were excellent.

However, it is a general economic rule that private services are more efficient and if left without much government intervention, have a lower cost over all.

I don't think that anyone seeking cancer treatment from a private hospital or doctor would decide to be treated at "random." When one spends their own money, the level of personal responsibility is increased.

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Anonymous said...

Don't evaluate doctors by looks.

In medicine, practice makes the master, because each human being is physiologically unique (except maybe some twins). So there are lots of things that universities cannot teach, and should be learnt by practice and experience.

Public hospitals have far more patients than private ones, so -old- physicians on public hospitals are far wisest than private doctors.