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Medical returns: Seeking health care in Mexico

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  • Horton, Sarah
  • Cole, Stephanie

Abstract

Despite the growing prevalence of transnational medical travel among immigrant groups in industrialized nations, relatively little scholarship has explored the diverse reasons immigrants return home for care. To date, most research suggests that cost, lack of insurance and convenience propel US Latinos to seek health care along the Mexican border. Yet medical returns are common even among Latinos who do have health insurance and even among those not residing close to the border. This suggests that the distinct culture of medicine as practiced in the border clinics Latinos visit may be as important a factor in influencing medical returns as convenience and cost. Drawing upon qualitative interviews, this article presents an emic account of Latinos' perceptions of the features of medical practice in Mexico that make medical returns attractive. Between November 15, 2009Â and January 15, 2010, we conducted qualitative interviews with 15Â Mexican immigrants and nine Mexican Americans who sought care at Border Hospital, a private clinic in Tijuana. Sixteen were uninsured and eight had insurance. Yet of the 16Â uninsured, six had purposefully dropped their insurance to make this clinic their permanent "medical home." Moreover, those who substituted receiving care at Border Hospital for their US health insurance plan did so not only because of cost, but also because of what they perceived as the distinctive style of medical practice at Border Hospital. Interviewees mentioned the rapidity of services, personal attention, effective medications, and emphasis on clinical discretion as features distinguishing "Mexican medical practice," opposing these features to the frequent referrals and tests, impersonal doctor-patient relationships, uniform treatment protocols and reliance on surgeries they experienced in the US health care system. While interviewees portrayed these features as characterizing a uniform "Mexican medical culture," we suggest that they are best described as unique to the private clinics and hospitals returning migrants visit. In short, we suggest that the perceived contrast in cultures of medicine derives from the difference in organization of health care services on each side of the border.

Suggested Citation

  • Horton, Sarah & Cole, Stephanie, 2011. "Medical returns: Seeking health care in Mexico," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(11), pages 1846-1852, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:72:y:2011:i:11:p:1846-1852
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    4. Raudenbush, Danielle T., 2021. "“We go to Tijuana to double check everything”: The contemporaneous use of health services in the U.S. and Mexico by Mexican immigrants in a border region," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 270(C).
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    7. Weller, Susan C. & Baer, Roberta D. & Garcia de Alba Garcia, Javier & Salcedo Rocha, Ana L., 2012. "Explanatory models of diabetes in the U.S. and Mexico: The patient–provider gap and cultural competence," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(6), pages 1088-1096.
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    9. Christina J. Diaz & Stephanie M. Koning & Ana P. Martinez-Donate, 2016. "Moving Beyond Salmon Bias: Mexican Return Migration and Health Selection," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 53(6), pages 2005-2030, December.
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