Going to the Doctor in Buenos Aires

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Whenever you are in a foreign country, something as easy as going to a doctor can be stressful, especially if you don´t know the language or the culture. Read on to find out what to expect.

First of all,  some useful vocabulary that you´ll need pretty much every time you go to the doctor:

Guardia – this is the area of the hospital/medical clinic that you go to if you do not have an appointment, and you need to see a doctor (other than emergencies).
Cartilla – a list of private doctors that provide health care covered under your health plan. Each health plan will have a different cartilla.
Turno – an appointment (as in doctor´s appointment).
Credencial – your medical insurance card
Obra Social – means health plan. If you sign up with Medicus, your Obra Social would then be Medicus.

Small walk-in clinics do not exist here in Buenos Aires. If you need to see a doctor without having an appointment, you go to a hospital or medical center (which is similar to a hospital), and you go to the guardia. The nice thing about going to the guardia, is that if you have a serious problem, you can often see a specialist right away, and you don´t have to leave the building. If you don´t speak English, request an English speaking doctor when you arrive.

If you do not want to go to a medical center, you can look up a doctor with an office near you in your health insurance providers’ cartilla. These are mainly doctors who work for themselves, and accept patients covered under certain health plans. You give them your card, and they bill the company you receive medical care from. The cartilla will also specify if they speak English.

Be aware, most of these doctors use old equipment, and their offices are in apartments. If you are used to fancy doctors’ offices and equipment, you may not feel it conveys a feeling of professionalism or high-end medical care. However, if you are lucky enough to find a good doctor, you can develop a great doctor-patient relationship, and they become your family doctor. You may even prefer going to a doctor in an apartment building, as it feels much less institutional.

At first, many of these doctors can seem somewhat cold and unfriendly. However, if you see them frequently, they often become the opposite. It is not uncommon for to greet your doctor (physiotherapist, dentist, acupuncturist, etc) with a kiss to the cheek, the same way as you would greet your Argentine friends. Although this can be awkward at first, it develops a strong bond between you and your doctor.

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  1. Miles says:

    I have to say that I reckon they have some of the world’s best and most caring doctors here. I’ve had my ear stitched back together in a very basic public hospital, and they refused any kind of financial donation afterwards. I also woke up one morning with my hand paralysed, thought I had had a stroke, got myself to a clinic, saw a specialist within ten minutes who correctly diagnosed me as having recently changed my computer and developed carpal tunnel syndrome, but personally took me round the hospital to get me tested by 3 other people (in case he was wrong) and then charged the grand total of less than 20 USD. And then when I found out I had no money because I had been in too much of a panic to go to a cash point, he just smiled and said he understood and just to drop it in whenever convenient.

    Try that in the UK or the US!!!

    This is the first country I would choose if I really was ill.

    And now I live here and am getting older I have taken out an excellent policy and it costs about USD 70 per month.

    Doctors here still have a vocation!

  2. tom says:

    Great post with useful explanation of the nuances. I’ve found the medical care here to be excellent but the vocabulary is something I took awhile to dominate. I highly recommend Dr. Gabriel Weil who has become my family doctor and much more for us. This is his website for those interested:

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