Thursday, December 16, 2010

Notes On A Hospital Visit In Cuenca

Today I went to the hospital. For fun. Yes, that actually happens.

The deal is that Cuenca's newest hospital, Hospital Universitario del Rio, generally just called Hospital del Rio, was having an open house and luncheon. It's a teaching hospital affiliated with the school where I've been teaching during the week, the University of Azuay, and it's administered by an international hospital group, American Hospital Management.

The hospital is about 18 months old, and a friend of ours who runs the Ecuador Medical Tourism Association invited us to go. All new everything and supposed to be the best in Cuenca, so I thought, why not?

It is a bit odd to be at the hospital when you don't need anything. I'm used to the dreaded scheduling, waiting, waiting, waiting process when it comes to visiting hospitals, or the quick run when you're really sick. Instead, we strolled in, sat through a little presentation, and had a very leisurely tour of the facilities.

Hospital del Rio is certainly state of the art. A group of private investors put the thing together, spending more than $42 million on the project. All brand new equipment made by GE with the goal of becoming THE best hospital in Ecuador, and this half of South America. They've got scanners and machines I'd never heard of, but they looked like stuff that would do the trick, right down to the giraffe incubators in the best NICU in the country.

The catch is that you get it all with Ecuador's brand of hospital service - nurses that don't do much and doctors who do it all. You don't have to wait in lines at private hospitals like this, you can spend 2 hours talking to one doctor, and for the private suite rooms the ratio was one nursing station per 8 rooms. Same day lab results are standard, and private specialists clinics are built into the structure.

And then there are the prices . . . this isn't a complete list, just some stuff I wrote down during the presentation and the tour. As you read these and think about your personal medical care situation, remember that flights are $580 roundtrip out of Denver through March 15th (usually $800 - $900), it's a $100 roundtrip transfer to Cuenca in country from Quito or Guayaquil, and today I am wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops. In December, in case I wasn't rubbing in the no snow situation enough.

Ahem, where was I? Right - listing the prices for state of the art medical care in Cuenca at the Hospital del Rio. Some 80% of the doctors speak English, and private translators that are available 24/7 during your stay in Cuenca can be had for around $10 per hour.
  • Appointment with a specialist: $25 - $30, depending on the specialty (they offer cardiology, oncology, dermatology, geriatrics, hematology, pediatrics, psychiatry, orthopedics, and urology on site, among others). Doctors trained in the US, Chile, Columbia, Germany, etc. The ones we met on the tour seemed very nice, as did the techs we interrupted.

  • Surgery room charge for operations: $3 per minute

  • Day rate for the hospital room: $100 for a private suite (includes sofa bed for guests and a private family lounge) off the bedroom, $70 for what US folks would call a standard private room, and they also have shared 2 and 4 bed rooms if you're "impoverished" and need cheaper options.

  • MRI: $200 - $250, depending on the part of the body you're having done. Same day results. Pretty sure a friend paid $850 for a knee view in the States, so this one impressed me the most.

  • Sonogram: $25, and they are available in 3-D and 4-D. I didn't even know they made 4-D for these things.

  • Endoscopy: $150, and they do rectal for colonoscopies as well as the ones that go down the throat. One of the retired people on the tour with us had paid $5,000 for a major endoscopy in the states, and another had paid $1200.
I can't remember the price for a CT scan - I was distracted by the tech who had a scan of somebody's heart up on their screen, working with the image. Apparently the machine makes 64 cuts (views) that are all integrated, and the Hospital del Rio is using it in heart imaging so they can avoid unnecessary catheterizations. It looked pretty darn cool.

The Hospital del Rio also has an Intensive Care Unit. The bed is $120 a day, and the cost of all the other nursing and support can run as high as $1,000 per day depending on what you're hooked to at the time (and the guide, who is the director, is quick to point out here "You get a lot for that price. It's expensive, but you get ventilation, dialysis, heart monitors, all your nursing, you know, those things. So even though it's a high, it's good.") And so I went to the web to look up some US comparables, and found a study from 2005 on average ICU costs in America that gave the average cost figures as $2,192 per day, and some ICU numbers from 1996 that gave the average as $2,000 - $3,000 per day.

The hospital was quick to emphasize their cleanliness, too. Since they're new, they have advantages in that they don't have decades of built up in-house strains of staph like some places in the States and around the world. They also sterilize all the rooms between guests, and contagious/contaminated rooms have a 24 hour quarantine. UV light checks are used to ensure cleanliness, and the rooms have views of the mountains and the river from which the hospital gets its name.

So . . . kind of a long post about a hospital tour, but it ended up being interesting to me so I thought I'd share. Readers, what were your last hospital experiences like, and what did you have to pay for your stuff?

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