The American Medical System – One Person’s Experience With Heart Surgery in the US… and Brazil

A week ago, my sister, while traveling in Natal, a city in Northeastern Brazil, experienced some heart trouble. Heart trouble is nothing new for her; she’s had a defibrillator in her for well over a decade now, and has undergone heart surgery a few times. Long story short, a taxi driver rushed her to the hospital, and on Tuesday she underwent heart surgery. Luckily for her, there’s a new heart hospital in Natal, so they knew what they’re doing. It also allows her to compare care under specialists in the US (she’s been through this in LA, Houston, and North Carolina) to her care under specialists in a city most people have never heard of in Northeastern Brazil.

A few interesting facts:

1. Needless to say, despite the plummeting value of the dollar relative to the Brazilian real, the cost of this surgery and everything related to the hospital stay is much, much cheaper in Brazil. (Thank goodness – her insurance company will reimburse her for most of the expenses, but since it was done abroad, she has to pay for it first and submit a bill later.)
2. My sister says that from her perspective, this surgery went more easily than the many surgeries she had in the US. In plain English, the pain, upon awakening, was much, much less, and she was up and about much more quickly. Whoever was in charge of sedation and anesthesia did one heck of a job. (I should also note – this surgery was something of an emergency – I believe each time she’s had surgery in the US, they had time to plan and the surgery was scheduled months in advance.)
3. The pre- and post- op care has been first rate. My sister uses words like “fabulous” and “incredible” to describe how she’s been treated. She’s talking about buying a place in Natal and moving there, and I suspect she’s only half joking. Maybe less than half.

Health care is more expensive and often of lower quality in the US than in developing countries like Brazil, even when you’re dealing with exotic problems which is what American care supposedly excels at dealing with. Someone tell me again about the greatness of the American medical system.