Squeezing the most out of life | An Aussie and a Colombian living life with a wandering spirit. Eight years together & over 60 countries up our sleeves, we're sharing the love |

Medical tourism for vagabonds

Hospitals might be the last place a traveller feels like visiting while exploring a new place, unless the purpose of their trip is to get that [insert organ/procedure] for a fraction of what it would cost you at home.

In my case there is nothing to replace, yet, and nothing I want to make easier on the eyes. However, I wouldn’t mind visiting a dentist, eye doctor, and having a general check-up. After all, I haven’t seen a doc for about 4 years and it would only set me back a couple of beers.

When I told Kris about my plan, she decided to sign up for a pap smear. I too, thought that was too much information, however, I knew there was good laughing material coming my way. But we’ll leave that for later.

Anticipating the long queues and endless bureaucratic hoops associated with free stuff paid for by the government, we deemed it appropriate to wake up one or six hours before what we now consider standard, and made it to Hospital Nacional de Clinicas just before buildings other than the emergency ward open.

The school-hospital has been around for 120 years, it is yet another decaying architectural beauty. Most of the buildings display that beigy colour fridges distort to after two decades. Consulting rooms are full of ancient contraptions. Makeshift fixtures are evident wherever you look, but the hustling crowds and smell of germicides that overpower even the most human of discharges shows a business-as-usual attitude. A handful of stray dogs hang out in the hallways and inner courtyards, sporting a sense of belonging even the most seasoned nurse couldn’t mimic.

After some trial and error we finally worked out the way to get that free health care, it goes something like this:

  • Open medical history at the ‘Medical history opening office’ ($1).
  • Queue at pavilion where the specialist you need hangs out.
  • He will either ask you to stop wasting his time, hand out some prescriptions, or send you to get some testing done.
  • If prescribed, head to the pharmacy within the hospital, and get your slightly subsidised medicine.
  • If tests are required, you can get most of them done at the same hospital. Just take the doctor’s order to the pertaining lab and/or specialists and have an appointment made (If the test you need isn’t covered by that hospital, check if other public hospitals do it, otherwise have a private lab/practice take care of them).
  • With the appointment certificate and the doctor’s order, head to the cashier and pay for the service needed (AR$10-45 depending on the test/specialist).
  • Go back to lab/specialist when your appointment is due.
  • Get a new appointment with the doctor who ordered the tests in the first place once the results are ready.
  • If you have a legitimate medical emergency disregard everything I said, just go through to the emergency unit.

In Argentina most systems are decentralised, so the process and related costs change from province to province, or even within hospitals in the same city. Argentina’s ministry of health links to each province’s health authority, there you can find your nearest hospital, contact details, and their speciality.

So 6 hours later Kris and I walked out of the hospital. Free medical check ups did great for my wallet and and positive results did great for my vanity. Kris on the other hand had the look of a cat who just received a bath and is still trying to make sense of what just happened.

For a start, men are not allowed in the gynaecologist pavilion, so her Spanish language had to explore new frontiers, she quickly learned vagina is still vagina, just with an unusual pronunciation [va-hee-na]. She also learned that medical secrecy is something that should not be taken for granted. Apparently, in Australia it is a private affair to get these sort of personal checks done, in Cordoba, Kris experienced some lengthy delays, lying on a less-than-comfortable bench, with her legs high in the air, and ladies on either side sharing the same uncurtained predicament. Chatty nurses and a Doctor were keen to discuss the Queensland flood situation while doing their job in the fashion of an assembly line, close investigation using a Soviet era microscope ensued, while a nurse in the background made coffee for the staff. Free doesn’t always mean breezy, particularly on a 35 degree day.

If you ever find yourself in the need for medical care and happen to be nearby or able to visit, Argentina has strong arguments for the medical traveller, whether he/she is on a budget or looking for high end treatment:

  • There are 6 doctors for every nurse.  Only 13 countries have more doctors than nurses.
  • There are 34 doctors for every 10,000 people. In the Americas, only Cuba and Uruguay
    have a better ratio.
  • There are 41 beds per10,000 people. That is 15 more than the world’s median.

At the end of the day, if you have time to persevere through the bureaucratic hoops, and need a medical check up after being on the road for a while, your patience is well worth the price. If anything, it’s a cultural insight into how the locals live and a macabre kind of people watch.


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