One interesting trend in American medicine has been to avoid American medicine altogether by becoming a Medical Tourist. With US consumers paying approximately triple the world average for health care, health costs can be an overwhelming burden to Americans with only high deductible insurance or no insurance at all. Fortunately, with a little research and the right help, Americans can find high-quality healthcare in Mexico while vacationing in some of the world’s most beautiful locales.

Find an agency first

If going to Mexico for healthcare, one should neither assume all Mexican doctors are good doctors nor should they assume that good healthcare is unavailable in a third world country. Mexico is gaining increased recognition as a destination for excellent healthcare. The number of JCI-accredited hospitals (hospitals accredited by the organization Joint Commission International) has increased within Mexico. The good news for Americans is that many of their doctors speak English fluently, and some even studied in the United States.

Agencies are available to link American tourists to reputable facilities with English-speaking personnel, and this was a great help in finding the specific, English-speaking doctors I needed. Internet research can help in finding these specific agencies or even individual doctors. The facilities are typically located in Mexico’s largest cities, large border cities, and in the more well-known resort towns that are popular with American tourists.

Shopping for a doctor

Once the prospective patient finds the agency and tells them the needed procedures, the agency can give patients a doctor or facility name and include a price quote. They’ll also set up the appointment if the patient agrees. Barring complications, the quoted price of the procedure is usually what the actual cost will be. This is, in contrast, to care in the United States, where the cost is usually unknown until after the procedure has been completed.

Price savings can be enough to finance the cost of the trip for the patient and a companion. For example, a knee replacement that’s $25,000 in the US can be performed for about $10,000 in Mexico. I received a colonoscopy for 4900 pesos ($275) that would have cost me over $2,000 in the United States. This applies to dental care as well. Mexico is a popular destination for dentistry since dental insurance offerings in the US are relatively limited. For example, getting six dental veneers costs about $6,000 in the US. The same procedure often costs around $1,000 in Mexico. Also, I received a dental cleaning for 800 pesos ($45) when my American dentist was charging me $190.

Buying drugs is usually easier in Mexico as well. In some cases, drugs that require a prescription in the US can be bought without a prescription in Mexico at local “pharmacies.” Even if a needed drug requires a prescription, in many cases pharmacies will have doctors on staff who can prescribe on site. Two classes of pharmacies exist. One is "Segunda Clase" (Second Class) which dispense drugs such as antibiotics, and blood pressure medications. "Primera Clase" (First Class), the other class of pharmacy, is permitted to sell controlled substances.

Always remain cautious

While the benefits of receiving care in Mexico can be compelling, people taking advantage of opportunities should be cautious.

Walking into a facility in Mexico and hoping to receive good care is a dangerous assumption in Mexico. Earlier in 2017, an expectant mother vacationing in Cancun found this out the hard way when administrators told her that the hospital would not release her baby unless the family paid a $30,000 hospital bill. Using an agency and reading doctor reviews is critical, especially with more dangerous procedures. Mexico handles medical malpractice cases primarily through arbitration, so suing a doctor for a poor result is a considerably more difficult option.

This caution should also apply to pharmacies.

Although Mexican pharmacies are regulated, they’re not required to have a licensed pharmacist on the premises at all times. Additionally, many will hike prices on unsuspecting tourists. Many Americans will feel more comfortable buying from a pharmacy they know. Stores like Walmart and Costco operate pharmacies in Mexico to fill that need.

One other factor to consider is how many follow up appointments are involved. The need to return to Mexico or stay in the country for extended periods of time (assuming that’s realistic) will diminish the savings of medical tourism. This happened to me when I didn’t study the process of getting a dental implant.

Hence, I had to return for a second, a two-week visit to Mexico. Hence, most of the savings of having had the implant done in Mexico was spent on travel.

Prospective patients should also choose destinations wisely. Drug violence has made many parts of Mexico unsafe, and tainted alcohol warnings have been frequent as of late. Hence, it’s advisable to check the State Department's website when choosing a destination within Mexico. And unless this visit is to a border town deemed safe by the State Department, one should consider travel by air as overland travel is unsafe in many places.

Despite these potential pitfalls, choosing Mexico for one’s healthcare can be a great opportunity to obtain much-needed care at an affordable price while enjoying a wonderful vacation.

While one needs both help and research to find reputable, English-speaking personnel, both the affordability and quality that can be available are too compelling to ignore. By utilizing the Mexican healthcare system, Americans can save large sums of money and enjoy a dream vacation (or at least recover comfortably) in a beautiful destination.

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