Monday, March 9, 2009

An apple a day…

I just had my first experience with the Indian healthcare system. It should be a credit to India that I’ve been here 8 months and this is the first time I’ve had to see a doctor. That or to Kenya, for immunizing me against every tropical disease imaginable.

India is acclaimed for the high quality and, more importantly, dirt-cheap nature of its healthcare services. It is so dirt-cheap, in fact, that health insurance covers hospitalization only, no basic services – which seems fair, since the typical price for a doctor’s consultation is around $10 (half that of just the co-pay in the US!). In Chennai, if you are a foreigner, no one will recommend to you any institution other than Apollo Medical Center, the world-renowned ultra-modern private hospital. There were rumors that Apollo was a little pricier than the typical clinic, but hey, this is “high quality and dirt-cheap healthcare” India. So when I developed a mild but stubborn skin rash from SE Asia, I decided to go check it out.

The dermatologist was friendly and professional, and shrugged off my concern about the price of tests with a “don’t worry, nothing is expensive in India.” Then came his recommended course of action for my rash:

3 blood tests
2 inflammation-reducing creams
Avoid groundnuts
Avoid bottled beverages
Avoid cheese
Avoid processed foods
Avoid strawberries and strawberry products
Avoid beer
1 anti-allergy tablet
1 prescription soap to use in the shower
…and a partridge in a pear tree.

I guess I don’t have to worry about underdiagnosis.

The bill for all of this hoopla came to about $60 – nothing outrageous, but at the end of the day it was 3x what it would have been if I was working in the US. It does not make me excited about the prospect of seeing a doctor for an *actual* medical condition.

And for the record, I bought one of the creams and the soap, ignored the rest of the diagnosis, and the skin rash was gone in 4 days.

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