Health Care in Jamaica

Quality medical care in Jamaica is one of the prime concerns of many of my readers. Between my wife and I, we have had seven years of experiences with doctors and other medical facilities in the Montego Bay area. We have found the quality of medical care to be quite adequate, although not perfect. Considering this Third World country boasts over 1,000 people above the age of 100 one would have to say that the medical care throughout the island is more than adequate. 

Health care in Jamaica is free to all citizens and legal residents at government hospitals and clinics. This includes prescription drugs. One of the drawbacks to free health care is long lines with no appointments accepted by the physicians. There have been stories in the newspaper of people going to the hospital early in the morning and leaving late in the day not having seen a doctor. Prescriptions are not easy to obtain. I have seen perhaps 20 – 30 people gathered at a hospital pharmacy two hours prior to its opening. The closer to the opening time, the more people congregate to receive the medicine they need and probably can’t afford. I have heard that some of these folks are turned away because of either a lack of supply or a drug the pharmacy doesn’t stock. If the person really needs an unavailable drug they must go to a public drugstore and pay for it or do without.  

Private doctors and clinics are widely available as long as you have the funds or insurance to cover the cost. I chose a private hospital/clinic about 45 minutes from my house. I also procured medical insurance in Jamaica. Medical insurance is available from several different companies with one being the leader in the field. Something I must point out to older people moving to Jamaica; health insurance CANNOT be purchased if you are 65 years or older unless you have been previously enrolled before your 65th birthday in a Jamaican plan. I can’t say this is an industry wide policy but it certainly is with the largest company. 

Within the first two weeks of living in my new home I came down with pneumonia. My neighbor took me to her doctor which is one of the many physicians who have small offices scattered throughout Montego Bay. I was quite surprised that he not only diagnosed my ailment but also sold me the drugs to treat it. I never went back to him because I didn’t trust his prices of drugs. They could have been fair but he certainly had the opportunity to inflate those prices.  

Sometime later I was introduced to this upscale hospital/clinic. They have a wide range of doctors, labs, x-ray department, and an operating theatre. I never had to go anywhere else for services. All my needs were met there. For most of that time, there was one General Practitioner whom my wife and I trusted with our health issues. Less than a year ago, he left his position at the hospital/clinic and opened an office in town. We were very delighted to hear that as we could now see the doctor we trusted and not have to make the long drive out of town. There is one drawback in that now we have to travel around town for labs and x-ray facilities. 

Many years ago I fell twenty feet off a ladder and landed on my back. The only injury I sustained was lacerations of my left calf caused by a strand of rusty barbed wire. I quickly showered and drove myself to the emergency department of the hospital/clinic. My wounds were cleaned and dressed but later a cyst developed which had to be surgically removed. The day of the procedure I once again drove to the hospital/clinic, received general anesthesia, and drove myself home an hour after the surgery was completed. Pretty amazing, I thought. I doubt that would happen back in Boston. 

About a year and a half ago, I developed tendinitis of the knee. The orthopedic surgeon prescribed a painkiller and an antibiotic to get me back on my feet again, literally. Several days later I started feeling numbness in my fingers which I ignored. However, the next day the numbness extended all the way up my arm and I was having trouble speaking. I was sure I was having a stroke. My neighbor drove me to the hospital/clinic where I was subjected to several tests including a cat scan. All the tests were negative. But what caused these stroke like symptoms? My wife decided to check the two medications out on the internet. The antibiotic was fine but the painkiller was banned in the U.S., Canada, U. K., and Australia, but not in Jamaica. Needless to say, I have had none of those symptoms since I stopped taking that medication.  

More recently, I went for my annual eye exam. The optometrist, who works out of a local optician, was concerned with the degree of change in my eyes in a year’s time. He was worried that I had either diabetes or a brain tumor. As my eye exam was part of my annual physical checkup, my doctor took note of the eye doctor’s concern and included a test for diabetes with the other blood work and also another cat scan. All of these tests came back negative. My next step was a neurologist who couldn’t find anything wrong but had me schedule an MRI just to make sure. Her suspicions were correct, nothing was found on the MRI. 

You can imagine how I felt at this time not knowing what, if anything was wrong with me. It was then that I decided to get a second opinion from an ophthalmologist. This doctor has an office on the outskirts of town and is equipped with the latest eye testing equipment. In a matter of minutes she diagnosed me with cataracts that got progressively worse but all within the normal limits. As I write this article, I have had one eye operated on with the second one scheduled in June. I now have good sight in one eye. 

I have highlighted a few of my own experiences with Jamaican health care. While not all of my experiences were positive, most of them were. I feel confident to say that health care in Jamaica is more than adequate to cope with the everyday needs of its citizens. Later…. 

About the author

John Casey