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Private Hospitals in Mexico Keep Prices Lower

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Stethoscope and medical prescription
Credit: Sheff | Shutterstock

My first experiences with hospital care in Mexico were in the public sector (IMSS), so the first time I visited a private hospital, I was more than a little surprised. The emergency room was spotless and the treatment was excellent, but the surprising part? It was how the ancillary services—like X-rays and blood chemistry—were set up to help private hospitals in Mexico keep prices lower. Let me see if I can describe what I found so unexpected.

I’m from Illinois. So first I need to distinguish the standard way things are done in the U.S. so you’ll appreciate the difference. If you are hospitalized in the U.S., of course they are going to draw blood. The blood is then sent off to some unseen laboratory in another part of the hospital. I always imagined the lab was in the basement somewhere, but it could have been anywhere. The point is that it was discreetly tucked away somewhere out of sight and in a private area of the hospital. The same might be said for services like CAT scans, ultrasound, cardiograms (if not done in your room), etc. Your only further encounter with these services might be when you get the bill.

So, back to the private hospital in Mexico. This was a new facility and the surprising part is that many of the normal hospital services were all on one floor—very visible to the public—and each service had what was essentially a commercial storefront, complete with a trade name and various forms of typical medical marketing. Imagine an illuminated poster of a woman lovingly holding her abundantly pregnant belly in front of the lab that performs ultrasounds. They shared a common waiting room, a large open area with comfortable seating.

It took a while to figure out what the deal was, but when I did it was clear that the ancillary services were outsourced. These were independent businesses that both provided services for the hospital and were available to serve anyone from the public whether they were hospitalized or not. Everything was ultra-modern and very professional, but sort of like a food court in concept.

This the current variation on what in fact has been a long tradition in Mexico. Not every medical or dental practitioner has all the equipment or testing they need in their office. This is true in the U.S. as well where you might be sent to a facility for a specific scan, or your blood sent to a lab, or the crown for your tooth created by an outside lab. The difference is that when the clever Mexicans build a hospital, they don´t always duplicate these services in-house, but rather bring these independent businesses into new facilities and essentially create a marketplace of medicine under one roof.

Each hospital may do things differently, for example, the hospital I visited most recently had a commercial blood lab, but performed X-rays and ultrasounds in the hospital proper. It is an interesting trend and creates opportunities for smaller players while at the same time keeping a hospital’s overhead lower by not having to invest in and maintain equipment or hire technically-trained personnel to operate everything.

There are many reasons that medical care is less expensive in Mexico, and this trend is one of them.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hello! Thank you for the article, that sounds interesting. I wonder how that works when the patient is in a critically ill situation and isn’t able to go to an ancillary provider for bloodwork or labs or whatever. If you’re unconscious or unable to get out of bed? Do they come to the patient? Coordinate with the doctor for what is needed and make sure results are sent directly to the physician? Do you know how this works? Thank you for any insight you can provide. I’ve dealt with a similar system in another country that outsourced everything and it did not work well, many breakdowns along the way.

  2. In a recent emergency room visit, blood was drawn by the doctor on duty in the ER and sent to the lab (which also had a public access face). The results were returned in record time and were perhaps the most exhaustive analysis I’ve seen from a hospital lab anywhere. From the point of view of the in-house patient, it was totally transparent and the billing was part of the hospital bill. However, I can assure you that if I ever wanted my own testing done (and sometimes I do), I’d go back to that lab in an instant. I don’t know what sort of robo-lab creature they are using to get such fast results and producing such a wide range of data, but I was impressed.

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