Friday, June 25, 2010

Guanajuato, Mexico - The Farmacia Debate

In case your Spanish is rusty or nonexistent, Farmacia means pharmacy. In Mexico, there are hordes of pharmacies, some good, some bad, from which you can get amazing discounts for the medications you must take. In a lot of the cases, all you need to do is take your script or prescription bottle to the counter and they have the same drug you take in the States or Canada.

When we moved here in 2003, there were no generic pharmacies in the city of Guanajuato. Shortly thereafter, a fantastic phenomenon occurred: Dr. Simi (Farmacia Similares).

This is the brainchild of Victor Gonzales Torres. He is the definition of entrepreneur in this country, and a lot of Central and South America, in bringing the generic drug revolution to Latin American. (By the way, you don't want to use the word, "drugs" in mixed company. "Medicamentos," or Medicines, carries the idea of "legal drugs" here.)

We were dyed-in-the-wool generic medicine takers in the States. We welcomed the generic drug revolution. Currently I have to take 12 meds daily and my wife takes a blood pressure pill each morning. Of my batch of drugs, 10 can be purchased at Dr. Simi or Farmacia Similares. The savings are impressive.

They also offer doctors and diagnostic lab services. The doctors are general practitioners and are quick to refer you to specialists when needed. I found this out with some of my health issues.

Recently, I had a PSA test that cost me about $25.00 USD. I can get Ultram, a pain reliever, for about $4.00 USD. If you go on the discount day (here in GTO it is Mondays from 1100am - 100pm and 500pm - 700pm) you get 25% off up to 500 pesos purchased.

Did I say the doctor's office call is just a whopping 25 pesos? With the currency exchange for the date I wrote this piece, it would cost you $1.97 USD to see a GP doctor for your medical needs.

What do you think of that?

I think it is grand but not all Guanajuatenses think so, especially the doctors in town not associated with Farmacia Similares.

Mexico is composed of public hospitals as well as scores of private hospital-clinic entities. Some of these private facilities are nice while others are frightening. The doctors who work in some these clinics are group owners of the facility. Within the facility, there are some laboratories, x-ray and ultrasound machines, and an amazing variety of medical specialists. There are also, many times, pharmacies in the facilities, which are far more expensive than Dr. Simi.

If you need a specialist, for example, and go to one of these hospital-clinics for a consultation, these doctors expect that any blood work, medicines you might need, or if you need an ultrasound, will be done within their physician-owned facility. They don't like it when you go to Dr. Simi and that is because, according to the Farmacia Similares literature, those doctors get a kickback from the labs and pharmacies associated with them

Though I've known this for some time, I got a dressing down from my specialist who saw that I went to the Dr. Simi labs for my PSA test. She immediately wanted it repeated at the lab (privately-owned but connected to her hospital-clinic) that is associated with her hospital-clinic. I could only imagine it is because she gets a commission.

I refused.

They will also lecture you soundly as to why you should NEVER use generic drugs and always go to the pharmacy connected to their facility.

Let me just say that Dr. Simi or Farmacia Similares is the best thing that has happened to Guanajuato in a long time. Mexicans who could not afford to see a doctor, have medical tests, or buy prescriptions have benefited the most.

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