Healthcare in Puerto Rico

Helpful health tips and information for both visitors and new residents living in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is a US Territory, and it seems more like a foreign country when it comes to healthcare. Here is everything about medical care, prescriptions, and laboratory tests that I wish I had known when we moved to Puerto Rico. Here are some helpful health tips and information for both visitors and new residents living in Puerto Rico.

Healthcare for Visitors

The first time that my parents visited Puerto Rico, my Father ran out of his prescription insulin. His prescription and corresponding refill was through Walmart and we assumed that not only would Walmart US and Walmart Puerto Rico be the same, that also the US Medicare healthcare program would be the same. We never did get consistent information, but long story short, the insurance would not cover his prescribed insulin but did offer a lower dose insulin (without prescription) for less than the regular co-pay. The crisis was diverted and now my Father always verifies his insulin and all medication before coming to visit Puerto Rico.

 To be safe, when visiting Puerto Rico bring a complete list of your medications, do not assume you can get a refill of a prescription here, and assume you will be “out-of-network” while on the island. Double check if your insurance covers emergencies in Puerto Rico. Travelers insurance is a good idea if you have health issues or are accident prone.

Healthcare for Residents

As soon as we moved to Puerto Rico, we gave up our US based health insurance and signed up for the far less expensive, better coverage Puerto Rican health insurance plan. My previous US based insurance (self employed) was over $350 per month, and my new Triple S insurance in Puerto Rico is $180 per month now.  My insurance is widely accepted around the island, it has low co-pays, many $5 co-pay for prescriptions, and high coverage.

Finding a Good Doctor

The doctor lists provided and maintained by health insurance companies on the island are outdated and contain wrong information. The best way to find a good doctor is to ask friends and neighbors.

There are Doctors and medical facilities located all around the island, but my personal experience is that the best doctors and medical care are in the San Juan metro area, some of these Doctors may also have offices in/around Ponce. I highly recommend Salus clinic for Triple S insured patients. The website has good information, and while it states that they take online appointments, that is a lie. You must call and make your appointment. There is a paid parking lot near the front entrance of the clinic, and the laboratory is on-site for one-stop medical care.

One of my Doctor’s office is located in the Maramar Plaza of San Patricio in Guaynabo. This was a referral from my Primary Care Physician, otherwise there is little information online about my Doctor and the other medical offices located in the building. There are 20 medical practices located in this building, at least that is what is listed on the sign for directory information posted on the elevator door and in the lobby. Like most things in Puerto Rico, it is difficult to obtain information in general, there is little to zero information online, and often the only way to get information is to physically go there in person. 

Going to the Doctor

The “country” medical offices around the island tend to look run down and often have the appearance of an abandoned building. There may only be a couple parking spaces, or none at all. Many of these offices only have one Doctor on staff, they tend to be very overcrowded and rarely take appointments. Patient medical forms tend to only be available in Spanish and maybe one English speaker on staff, maybe none. Bring cash, not all Doctor’s offices accept payment for co-pays via credit card.

San Juan and surrounding areas of Bayamon, Guaynabo, and Condado tend to have nicer, more modern facilities. These are the medical practices with more than one Doctor, modern equipment, on-site parking (paid or complimentary), medical forms available in Spanish and English, and more English speaking staff. Many of these facilities offer appointments or an appointment window (Example, 6 patients between 1-2 pm, first come first serve).

In general, most Puerto Rican medical facilities do not follow any kind of patient privacy or HIPAA guidelines, I am not even sure if they are required to. Patient sign in is visible to everyone, and there is no indication of privacy and security of health information. They avoid the standards for electronic exchange by doing everything manually and there are very few electronic records. Much like banking, medical information in Puerto Rico is stuck in the 1980’s for technology.

Do you want to see what it is like to go to the Doctor in Puerto Rico? Here is a video of my experience, frustration, and helpful tips for doctor office visits in Puerto Rico.

Laboratory Tests

Laboratory facilities are located throughout the island. There is no appointment necessary, first come first serve basis. Many Lab technicians are bilingual. The biggest difference between labs is how quickly they complete the test and have results completed. 

Bring your prescription for lab work into any lab facility. Sign in, take a seat, and your name will be called pretty quick for co-pay and the laboratory tests.

Before leaving, confirm when your lab results will be ready for pick-up. Unlike everywhere else in the modern world, lab results are not sent directly to the prescribing Doctor. You, as the patient, are expected to pick up your lab results and deliver them to the Doctor. When you go back to the lab and show your identification to pick up your results, then you need another appointment with your Doctor to review the results.

In a rare case, my neighbor had a Cancer scare and the Laboratory rushed her tests and sent the (negative) results directly to her Doctor. I know many facilities have the ability, but for whatever reason, will not sent the results directly. This manual policy adds additional run-around for patients, and delays treatment.

What to Expect in an Emergency

Recently, my friend’s sister came to Puerto Rico to visit. On the third day of her visit, she had a medical emergency that required a lengthy hospital stay and multiple ambulance rides. Jaime shares the story in this interview style video.

Some of the information that my friend learned (the hard way) was:

  • In an emergency, call 911! They may put you on hold to find an English speaker. Asking a Spanish speaker to call for you could get a response faster and avoid any delay to locate an English speaker.
  • Ambulance companies are privately owned and may require payment in cash before the patient will be transported to the medical facility.
  • Emergency transportation will ask you to decide which medical facility for transport.
  • There does not appear to be any coordination between ambulance and medical facilities to prepare for incoming patients or to recommend the best facility for the emergency or trauma.
  • The patient is responsible to provide blankets, pillows, bed pans, and all hospital supplies. The hospital will only provide information on what and how many to bring, such as how many sets of clean night gowns. The patient’s family are critical to provide these items. Even the medicated cream for bed sores must be provided by the patient’s family. I have no idea what would happen to someone without a support system to provide these hospital necessities.
  • The Doctors and Nurses are qualified professionals and they provided good healthcare that ultimately had a positive outcome. The healthcare providers work hard for patient care and genuinely cared about their patients.

These are my personal observations and experiences and in no way should be taken as medical advice. I am not a Doctor or any kind of medical professional. 

Hurricane Irma Impact in Puerto Rico

By now, most people know that Hurricane Irma is a Category 5 Hurricane and the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.  Geography buffs also know that the Caribbean Sea and Caribbean Islands are considered part of the Atlantic Ocean.  We live in Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean, in the Atlantic Ocean, where this monster hurricane passed through leaving massive devastation in her wake.

Here is the real impact of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Irma eye over BVI
Hurricane Irma eye over BVI

We are lucky.  Puerto Rico is lucky.  Hurricane Irma passed to the north of our island, slapping our little island of Culebra along the way.  Electricity went out throughout the island hours before Irma passed by.  Many areas of the island were without water for days, and more are still without electricity (5 days and counting).  But our buildings are still standing, and we are alive.  We are lucky. Continue reading “Hurricane Irma Impact in Puerto Rico”

How Growing up in Phoenix Prepared Me for Living in Puerto Rico

We recently moved to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.  I was a little nervous about the culture shock of leaving our hot, dry desert city and adjusting to small town, island life.  It sounds weird, but it turns out growing up in Phoenix has actually prepared me for living in Puerto Rico.  GrowingupPHX

Here are 10 ways growing up in Phoenix, Arizona prepared me for living in Puerto Rico:

Close connection to foreign countries. 

It is faster to drive to Mexico from Phoenix than any state in the US, Mexico is Arizona’s neighbor to the South.  Likewise, Puerto Rico’s closest neighbors are definitely not the US mainland (Hello Dominican Republic and British Virgin Islands)

Everyone is (a little) Bilingual

Anyone who grew up in Arizona speaks at least a little Spanish. I even attended a bilingual elementary school for English as Second Language (ESL program).  Everyone speaks a little English in Puerto Rico.  Many people are fully bilingual in both Arizona and Puerto Rico.   Admittedly, Arizona Spanglish is a different dialect that the Puerto Rican Spanish, but it is a good foundation to build upon.  Plus I was always really good at charades, so I can act out many difficult phrases.

There are more Snowbirds than Local Residents half the year

Winters in Phoenix are overrun by people from the Mid-west desperately trying to escape the cold and warm up.  Since arriving in January, we have seen the population dwindle as the snowbirds leave the island for summer.  I just cannot escape snowbirds!

Continue reading “How Growing up in Phoenix Prepared Me for Living in Puerto Rico”

Living in Puerto Rico 3 month check

After extensive preparation to move to Puerto Rico (read about it here), we are LOVING the island life!

Here is a recap, as we pass the three-month milestone of living in Puerto Rico.Living in Puerto Rico

Long Term Rental on a House

Working with the realtor before arrival really paid off!  The first house we looked at was everything we wanted, in our price range, and it was almost perfect!  We viewed several other properties and decided to make an offer on the first house.  We provided current credit scores and reports with our application.  Security deposit, plus first month and last month rent were paid with a local check (opening PR checking accounts were part of our six month preparation steps). Our house was partially furnished, so we could move in right away, but there would be extra expenses to purchase more furniture. Continue reading “Living in Puerto Rico 3 month check”

Ponce Food Truck Fest Monthly Event

Are you traveling to Puerto Rico?  Thinking about it?  Do you like food?  Do you like Free Entertainment?  If you answered YES to at least one (of course you did), then I have an event for you!

Every month the city of Ponce, on the Southern coast of Puerto Rico, host a huge Food Truck Festival!  There are musicians, performers, and entertainment, children’s play area, great people watching, and FOOD!

Food Truck Festival Children's area
Food Truck Festival Children’s area

The event is held in a local park (Parque Dora Colon Clavell) in the heart of Ponce, just off of the the 52 highway.  The streets directly around the park are closed to vehicle traffic, and cars are directed to nearby parking, then just follow the music to the event.  It is well organized and safe. FTF_Busy Trucks

Food trucks from all over the Island come down to Ponce for this monthly Festival. There is traditional Puerto Rican food and drinks, pizza, burgers, fusion, noodles, and more!  We ordered small plates from several vendors, each dish was delicious!  Two adults (us) spent $21 total on food!   Continue reading “Ponce Food Truck Fest Monthly Event”