Hubby and I must have caught a cold on the flight to India, as we were both coughing nonstop with stuffed up noses and a bit of a fever. We headed to see the family doctor who has been overseeing the family’s health for more than twenty years. It’s quite a long commute to see this doctor. You have to walk all the way down the stairs and walk down the side of the building two entire doors in order to reach the doctor’s office. That’s right, the doctor’s office is located in the same building on the first floor. If that wasn’t easy enough, there is no need to call and make an appointment. Unlike calling the doctor’s office in America, where if I ever fall sick, or am struck with some overwhelming injury, I am told “the soonest possible appointment is in two weeks”. By which time, a visit to the doctor has become irrelevant. In India, we simply walk into the cramped office and wait our turn, possibly ten or fifteen minutes tops. There’s also no need for health insurance. A visit to Hubby’s family doctor costs roughly $3 USD which includes 8 doses of medication.
Once it’s our turn, we step into the private examination room, a small office with a patient bed. Though the doctor has only the simplest of equipment, a stethoscope and a regular household flashlight, his diagnosis is always correct. All he needs is a quiet minute to look at you and he knows exactly what is needed. In a majority of the cases there is no need for $500 x-rays or a laundry list of tests which tell you nothing’s wrong. American doctors are so afraid of giving a wrong diagnosis and getting sued that they rack up a bill of $300 dollars just to diagnose a simple cold (yes, this has actually happened to me with our American doctor).
After the exam is finished, a prescription is written out. To fill the prescription, the doctor simply rings a bell and his helper, commonly known as a “compounder” in India, enters the private examination room. The doctor hands him the prescription and he fills out 8 doses of medication in a small pack from a corner cabinet, which holds all the basic medicinal needs. If anything more specialized has been prescribed, the pharmacy or “chemist store” is right next door.
I used to think American doctors with all their sophisticated education and fancy equipment were the best. That thinking has changed significantly after seeing a doctor in India who, with little more than a flashlight can correctly diagnose an issue which the doctors back home need several expensive tests to diagnose.
I remember one incident around 9 years ago, when Hubby went to an ENT specialist in Chico. The specialist could not diagnose his problem for over a year. Finally the specialist asked for an MRI which showed that a minor surgery was needed. Hubby decided to fly back to India to get a second opinion from an ENT in Bombay as he figured it would be 10 times cheaper to fly to India and get the surgery, rather than paying for a surgery in the US. When he saw the ENT specialist in India and offered to show him the MRI results the specialist refused to see them till he had completed his own examination. Within 5 minutes of his exam the specialist came to the same conclusion that the doctor in Chico came to after an entire year and a $2,600 MRI scan.
It’s an eye opening experience for me to receive such great care in what most people view as a “developing” country. While the offices may not be as shiny and fancy as what we have in America, the quality of service is far beyond what is available back home. I am sure there are amazing doctors in the US but our system gets in the way of quality care. I hope our healthcare system gets reformed so that good quality healthcare is available to all, as it is in many other parts of the world. Where doctors don’t need to worry about frivolous lawsuits and patients don’t have to choose between paying for groceries and paying for unnecessary tests.