Heath Care in Medellin: Our Experiance

When one first lives in a new culture, fears arise about things we take for granted back home. Medical care is one of the big ones. This seems to be particularly true of people from the States where we have grown up with the idea that the US is the best at everything. I have found that this is dead wrong when it comes to medical care.

 Nubia and I have been using Colombian medical services and insurance since we came down 4 years ago. I have had a hernia operation, some dermatological work and dental services She has been going through treatment for a cancer over the last 9 months. This is the basis of my experience.

 The most salient characteristic of the Colombian medical system is the high quality of care. This is seen in the medical technology and arts, as well as the positive and thoughtful attitude of the care givers. I am not an expert on medical practice so I won’t go deeply into comparisons of treatment standards between nations. Suffice it to say that the care we have received has been first rate in our experience. It has more than met our objectives.

 The friendly, caring attitude we have encountered in the doctors and nurses and even in many of the administrative folks is a strong contrast to what we generally experienced in the States. In the US there were a few bright spots but most of the service we received was cold and impersonal. I will start of by identifying the institutions we have been served by here in Medellin.

 Our insurance company is SURA. This is perhaps the weakest link in terms of attitude. After all it is a big insurance company. That said, they have provided excellent coverage and have been very good about approving uncovered medications and procedures. Their staff has been reasonably efficient and definitely effective. We end up waiting in long lines but that is the nature of the beast. Our coverage costs us about $US 72.00 a month at todays exchange rate. Our typical co-pay is $US 1.20. At those rates I will wait a while!

 Our primary (gatekeeper) clinic is El Instituto del Torax in the downtown area. It is located within a 20 minute walk or 5 minute cab ride of our home so it is very convenient. You may have to wait for services on a walk-in basis but rarely for long. I think the longest I have waited was 45 minutes. With an appointment service is rapid.

 You are assigned a primary family doctor during you first visit. If you don’t like the particular doc or decide that another of their people would be better, you are free to change. The Torax doctors we have worked with have all been competent and friendly. They take the time to get to know you and are not in a rush to push you out the door. You leave feeling you have been helped by a person, not a robot. As my wife’s condition is of significant concern, she has been working with one of the Torax surgeons. Normally they don’t serve as primary care doctors but he agreed to take on that additional role for her to assure she was getting the care he wants her to have. Above and beyond the call of duty! Not only that he is a very nice and attentive person.

 My wife’s oncology team is located at the SOMA clinic, also downtown. They are led by Doctor Mauricio Lema and have the reputation of being among the best, if not the Number One team in Medellin. They were assigned through the efforts of Torax and SURA. We are very pleased.

 Dr. Lema’s team of doctors and assistants have gone out of their way to assure that Nubia get the most up to date and best possible attention. Once again they do it with the spirit of loving patient care we have come to expect. They are great!

 The rest of the SOMA staff also is effective and shows the same kind of caring attitude. We cannot visit that very large clinic (it is the size of a large hospital) without being greeted by people who have previously helped. They go beyond the superficial friendliness I am accustomed to in the States. They often remember your name, why you have been there and sincerely inquire about how you are doing. This is from all levels of staff. Quite remarkable from my point of view.

 Being cared about promotes the healing process. Having that care delivered by friendly people who see you as a person, not a paycheck is way beyond my previous experience. It gives us confidence and makes us feel like we will indeed be better soon. Any fears I once had about medical care here in Medellin have long since disappeared. If you are coming to visit or to stay, please feel safe and comfortable if you need to visit a doctor.


Cafam Pharmacy at the San Antonio Exito

Consider carefully prior to purchasing from these people. I bought a package of Colypan from them and it turned out to be the wrong size. Their return policy does not allow them to return cash so I ended up paying 70,000 pesos (approximately $US 39) for a prescription that should have been around 26,000 pesos (approximately $US 14.50).  If I went there more frequently I would have taken a credit but that would not serve my needs. I should mention that I did not see any notification of their return policy.

The clerk was polite and I have no problem with her. I have sent a communication to the Exito chain as the Contact function at Cafam’s web site is not functional.

Be warned. Also please let your friends and acquaintances know about this policy.

Medellin’s Adult Homeless Program

Medellin is developing a program designed to provide assistance to the adult homeless. It has six main components:

  • Attention in the Street: concentrating on parts of the city where they frequently congregate. This includes community awareness and education programs as well as hot lines too identify people in need of help.
  • Centers for Attention: to basic social and therapeutic needs as well as motivation to improve their situation. These centers also provide linkages to other services.
  • Resocialization and Social Inclusion: Strives to get people better connected with family, the community and the world of work using therapy and education.
  • Community: Educates the community at large about how the program works.
  • Attention to Institutional Opportunities: Receives, identifies, diagnoses and refers with follow up, people who enter the system as indigents, with physical illnesses, those who are convalescing, or dieing.
  • Adult Homeless Attention Unit: Assists people who for reasons of physical or mental deterioration are unable to develop a family life or cannot integrate socially and who are a danger to themselves or others.

For information you can call the following numbers: 514-2184, 511-1821, or 514-1722. You can also call the 123 hotline and their email is sistemahabitantedeca@medellin.gov.co

I encourage everyone to become familiar with the program and help make this a community effort for the betterment of life in Medellin.



Health Care System

I am scheduled for some minor surgery today. I continue to be impressed with the health care system here. During the lead up to the event I have had interviews with two surgeons and the anesthesiologist. The Clincia de Prado will do the work under my health insurance from work. They are very organized and have been helpful in all aspects. They provide a very good pre-surgery check list and it seems to cover all the bases. This is much better service than either my wife or I received in the States.

The major downside difference I see at this point is that one has to go to more than one institution during the process. First one goes the primary care group to get into the slipstream, then to the insurer for approval. Then a consultation with Surgeon 1. Then back to primary care for blood tests, etc. Next, a consultation with the clinics surgeon. Then back to the clinic to chat with the anesthesiologist. This could probably be made more efficient but as I said they cover the bases.


The surgery went well.

Health Care: Susalud

We just finished up getting my 98 (99 at the end of October) year old mother covered under my health care policy from work. It took a long time but much of the delay was caused by us not filling out forms properly. Of course insurance companies are much the same every where. They don’t want to take on risk. Colombian law however, requires that they cover family members of folks who have insurance through their workplace.

The premium for this service is about $US 65.00 per month. This includes home care when necessary. Compared with the almost $US 500.00 per month we paid in San Diego and with no coverage for an elderly parent I am happy. Very happy!

BTW the name of the provider is Susalud and at this point I have to recommend them highly. The service they have provided me and my family has been very good.

Health Care

Well I went to Susalud to get the surgery approved today. About a 15 minute wait in the line to get a number to talk to the approver. Another wait of about 30 to 35 minutes. Very polite service. They will call me after 05 October to give me the date for the surgery. I think they could cut out a lot of lines and waiting around by going electronic with these functions.

In a lot of ways this is very Colombian. People here are accustomed to having personal interactions.

The Health Care System

Colombia has a health care system with a social orientation. I have recently begun to use it under the health insurance from work. So far my impression is positive. I am soon going to have some fairly minor surgery and went for an interview with the surgeon this morning.

He was friendly and interested in medical services I may need beyond the matter at hand. I had taken a test for prostate cancer several weeks ago and had not heard back. He took the time to look it up in the system and told me it came out clean. He also spent about a half hour discussing my health in general and the procedures for the surgery. I came away with the impression that he was interested in my health and did not feel pressure to rush me out the door.

We talked a little about the level of medical services in Medellin. These are generally considered to be among the best in South America. When he was a resident the problems with Pablo Escobar began. This of course led to many grave medical emergencies. He said it was like working on the front lines of a war. His professors and supervising doctors said Ok, get in there and save these lives. He got a lot of experience with really difficult surgeries very early in his career.

He also said that he gets paid about $US 50.00 for the work he will do on me. This is mind boggling when compared to the US system. In general doctors salaries are much lower that in the US. Many are trained and this probably helps to keep down costs. My total cost should be $US 20.00 co pay. The waiting period with be between 20 and 30 days to schedule the surgery.

All-in-all my impression remains favorable. I will report on my impressions and experiences as I continue living here in Medellin.