Ecuador stands out as one of the leading Latin American countries regarding health care opportunities. Ecuador’s constitution guarantees the right to health care and, while occasionally there’s a difference between the regulations and reality, the country makes regular improvements to its health system.
Top Photo Credit: Pictures of Money
When Rafael Correa became president in 2007, the focus became increasing access to care in rural regions and improving its quality in the cities. At the time, the health system in the major cities had state-of-the-art equipment already, as well as various specialists and physicians with private clinics. Even so, by 2016, 46 additional health centers and 12 hospitals had been built in Ecuador. Old facilities were upgraded, new high-tech diagnostic and treatment equipment were purchased, and the government doubled the number of doctors, including specialists from Spain and Cuba.
During 2008, Ecuador’s government made significant revisions to the country’s public health care system. They brought in universal health care for residents and increased the reliability, quality, and accessibility of public health care for everyone. Between 2008 and 2013, the budget for Social Security health care services rose almost 400% from $561 million to almost $2 billion in 2013.
Big Cities and Small Towns
There is a higher demand for health care in larger cities, which means wait times can be longer. There is also good-quality health care to be found outside the major metropolises; smaller cities have clean and modern private clinics staffed by knowledgeable professionals. An expat’s home embassy can locate an English-speaking doctor in their area, wherever they are in Ecuador. Often private doctors in small towns will make house calls.
Rural locations should be able to handle regular care and minor issues. On occasion, patients will have to travel to bigger centers to access certain types of treatment. Expats should consider their current medical condition before they decide on settling in an Ecuadorian city or rural area.
Explaining Executive Care
Within Ecuador’s system, an “executive health assessment” refers to a comprehensive package of tests (sonograms, blood tests, mammograms, x-rays, treadmill tests and so on) over a two-day period that includes an overnight stay in a hospital. Medical professionals collect a mountain of data during this time. A few days following the test, a health report arrives in a folder with all test results, a CD of images taken during the exam, and a detailed explanation of the findings.
The total cost of this assessment (including an overnight stay in a semi-private room) is in the range of $4000, about half the U.S. rate (or less, when one factors in the cost of an overnight hospital stay).
How to Interact with Ecuadorian Health Professionals
If you want to know the specifics about any treatment in the Latin American health system, ask the doctor. Otherwise, it will be assumed – even by English-speaking doctors – that you will accept the treatment plan and its length without question. Knowing basic Spanish before moving to Ecuador is an asset.
The Cost of Health Care
As of 2015, a visit to a general practitioner costs $25 to $30, and a visit to a specialist will set you back $30 to $40. Patients get more “face time” with their GP in Ecuador than during doctor visits in the U.S.
A psychiatrist will charge $30 to $40 for a half-hour session. Under local anesthesia, the removal of a small lump and biopsy costs about $100. A colonoscopy costs $350 in Cuenca. A set of simple x-rays runs $45, while a full battery of blood tests costs about $75.
A private hospital room in Cuenca with full medical service and meals averages $225 a day compared to $950 in the U.S.
Pharmacists are qualified to give medical advice for minor ailments such as rashes or ear infections. Generally, they provide this service without any charge.
Brand-name medicines usually cost less in Ecuador than in the U.S., and generics are widely available and much cheaper. Many medications that require a prescription in the U.S. can be bought over the counter in Ecuador.