The cost for medical services and healthcare in Chapala and Ajijic has a broad range. A general physician at the local drug store who just graduated from medical school will charge you around US $2.25 or even less. The way the physicians make is through the commission agreement they have with the pharmacy. They prescribe the medications that are being sold by the pharmacy. Sometimes, they may not even charge you for a visit if you buy the medication at the pharmacy. These doctors are the ones who haven’t done any specialty or any residency yet. People start medical school here in Mexico when they are about 18 years old so it is not unusual for you to find a young doctor here in Mexico.
If you need a specialist, you will pay between $35 and $60 per office visit, if you don’t have insurance and pay out of pocket. If you have something more serious that would cause you to have to be hospitalized or you have to undergo a certain procedure, the cost would vary depending on your condition. When I do rounds or when I visit somebody in a hospital in Guadalajara (the closest large city, where there are major hospitals), I charge them my rate x 2 hours minimum because it takes me an hour to get there, and in that hour I could have seen three patients at my office.
My personal receipts have my pay scale printed on them so there are no surprises. However, not everybody does that. When you get to the level of a specialist, the charge for a visit can vary substantially. For example, a neurosurgeon may charge $57 for half an hour visit to somebody in the hospital, while an intern may charge around $40. The cost also depends on the time of day or night and if it’s a weekend or a weekday.
A very standard procedure such as a colonoscopy costs between 5,000 and 7,000 pesos (about US $280 to $390). The anesthesiologist costs about 3,000 to 4,000 pesos (about $168 to $224) plus the use of the operating room or procedure room. Those prices tend to vary quite a bit. Like most doctors in the US, I recommend that these kinds of procedures be done in a hospital. You may pay around 10,000 pesos (about $560) for using the OR or procedure room in a 5-star hospital, whereas there are clinics available that do these types of diagnostic procedures where you will pay only $170 to $230 for using their facilities. There are risks or pros and cons in using these facilities, though. Being a doctor, I do recommend that you try to minimize your risks but there are some people who really focus on their pocketbook and make decisions with their pocketbook. I guess as long as they are informed of the type of risks that they are running, I am okay. A colonoscopy is a safe procedure but in case there is a complication such as a perforation of your intestine, you will have to go to a hospital. Hospitals are located in Guadalajara, which is about an hour away from Chapala. In total, you will spend about $850 to $1,000 for a colonoscopy.
Overall, medical procedures in Chapala cost about 1/3 of how much it costs in Chicago (where I am from) for the same quality of care. You could pay much less but the quality of the care that you would get would be something that I, as a doctor, would not recommend. The specialists that I vetted and opt to work with tend to keep the same standards of care and quality that I have grown accustomed to in the US and that are recommended in the US. Just like any other profession, there are people who make their money on volume and they court a different type of market. Their market is those people who are looking for more bang for their buck. Obviously, the profit margin for them is a lot smaller but they make their money on the sheer volume of patients that they see. I, and the physicians that I work with, make sure that the quality and standards of care that you get are more elevated. In addition, we feel a lot more comfortable working at these fully staffed hospitals that are prepared in the event of any emergency because we will be able to best handle the emergency there.
A colonoscopy can be done at around $400 (for example), whereas if you go to San Javier Hospital, which has its own facilities and a good reputation, you would spend around $560 more. My follow up visits cost about $40 to $45; I try to keep it under $50. In the US, depending on the area where the hospital or clinic is located, a follow up visit costs around $80. In downtown Chicago, you would pay above $100 for a follow up visit while in the west side of Chicago, you would pay around $50 to $60.
The office I practice out of here in Chapala very modern and state-of-the-art. It is a medical office building. There are other doctors who open shop in homes that have been renovated or maybe even renovate their homes in order to suit their needs. In the communities in the Chapala area, it is more common to see a doctor in an office that is in a house that has been renovated than in a medical office building, where I practice.
(Chicago-raised Dr. Santiago Hernandez greets an expat patient at his state of the art office in Lake Chapala, Mexico, pictured.)