I’ve been living in Mongolia for three years now and you didn’t think I wouldn’t have a run-in with the Mongolian hospitals at some point.
Grand Med Hospital
When I first arrived, the school arranged a tour of some of the hospitals in Ulaanbaatar for us. Now the first of the three hospitals is located about three quarters of a mile away from the school just up the street from where I take the cross country kids running sometimes. The school is located where pictures are.
If it weren’t for the Mongolian language signs, it would fit right in with some of the posh private hotels found in the west. It’s also quite new, obtaining its license in 2009, with all of the doctors coming from South Korea. The English slogan on the back of the brochure reads as follows:
“You no longer need to travel abroad for costly spinal surgeries. Our hospital presents an opportunity for you to save on the following costs.”
So first thing I had to do is put on these neat little booties over my shoes when I stepped inside.
As you can see, the floors are a nice marble too, very posh. Continuing with the posh theme, there is an internet café and bar on the top floor that also has a nice view of the surrounding area. That’s Zaisan in the middle and school is behind the buildings on the right.
The forest you see in the background is a common hiking spot for me and my fellow teachers.
Now the next picture is going to need some explaining. The hospital has a variety of rooms and services, including internal medicine, traditional medicine, each with their own wings, pain management, rehabilitation, OBGYN, surgery, dental, and VIP services. They offer standard rooms, which include a TV, couch, and minibar, and VIP rooms, which are nicer than some of the hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. The PR lady giving the tour was very excited to explain how the paint and floors were antibacterial, the curtains were fire proof, and all of the other safety features. In all it was quite nice and I would have no problem seeking treatment there. Now it comes to the cost, a VIP room is 130 dollars US and the standard room 100$ dollars US, a fraction of what you might pay in the states. How do they do this you ask- honestly, I have no idea but I think the prison (seen below) right next door has something to do with it. Maybe that is where jerk ass insurance workers and lawyers are sent.
Now don’t worry it’s only minimum security and holds a lot of juvenile offenders.
Inter Med Hospital
The Inter med hospital is even newer with its grand opening in 2014. It is just as nice, if not nicer, than the Grand Med, but it is a little further away. All of their doctors are foreign trained and they speak English. The facility was built by the Australians with numerous little bells and whistles built into the walls to reduce infection risk. Not that they told us what those were, though they did mention their new electronic medical records system and how it was easy for them to share all of the information with whoever needs it, no word on HIPPA compliance, though. It also has a partnership with the Korea University Medical Center.
The hospital offers the full range of medical specialties including an ER and a Cuban dentist.
Listed below are some of their prices in US dollars
Basic package- $154
And two of the following cancer markers:
Comprehensive package- $1,772
Bone density scan
Thyroid and abdominal ultrasound
Cardiac CT with contrast
Chest CT with contrast
Abdominal CT with contrast
Liver, colon, pancreatic, gastric cancer markers
Breast, prostate cancer markers
I did have to go to this particular hospital for food poisoning in 2015 after it got to the point where it felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach each time I ate or drank something. So one taxi ride later and I was in their ER. I had a short wait on a chair before being taken to a room and examined by a South Korean doctor who spoke excellent English. Next thing I know I’m taken to another room and placed on a bed with an IV in my arm for rehydration. 4 hours later, plus another IV bag and I am on my way with a list of items to help alleviate my symptoms. Surprisingly, it only cost me 97$ USD. My only complaint was not receiving any antibiotics as the South Korean doctor wanted to just let it run its course. Luckily I have a father who is a physician, who can tell me the best antibiotic for food poisoning and the pharmacies here will sell just about anything to you as long as you have the generic name.
The final hospital on the tour, and it looked more like you would expect being outside of the US, not that it was bad, just different. Not much to say about this one as it was more barebones compared to the previous two hospitals, with a regular room costing about $30 a night. The one highlight would be trying to use the elevator and overloading with just four people. It was rated for 6 people or 450kg; I don’t think they planned on three former American HS football players getting on at the same time. The rest of the tour we used the freight elevator. Darn tiny Mongolians.
Basic testing- $243
Viral tests- Hep A, B, C, H. pylori, HIV
Cancer markers- ovarian, prostate
Urine and stool
Chest X ray
Sonograms- abdominal, thyroid, prostate
Gold screening test- $919
Everything in basic plus the following:
Cancer- liver, stomach, colon, breast, stomach
Pulse wave diagnostic
Brain MRI with contrast
Mongolian Emergency Room
My latest experience with the Mongolian healthcare system was much more recent, after returning from Sri Lanka this year, and no, I didn’t do anything crazy. I was chaperoning a weekend event at the school, a sort of fundraiser/ intramural sports day. I had the easy spot, the balcony over the gym to keep the students from doing anything crazy up there, which was easy since no students were up there. Well, it was easy for a while at least.
Student 1- Mr. Meharg can you tell if a bone is broken?
Me– I really hope they said phone and not bone.
Of course, I do the teacher thing and come down to investigate and yes, student number 2, who was holding an ice pack over his wrist, can’t move said wrist.
Me- crap, yes there is a good chance it’s fractured. Did you call the ambulance?
Student 3- yes
At this point, I herd the students to the lobby to wait for the ambulance, which was called ten minutes ago.
Me- where is the ambulance?
Student 3- Mr. Meharg, don’t you know this is Mongolia?
Me- and that means……
Student 3- My mother was having problems during labor and it took the ambulance an hour to show up.
Student 4– Yeah, and I just checked- there isn’t one coming.
Me- Lovely- ok, get student 2’s stuff and call a taxi, I’m going to take you to the hospital. Student 2, call your parents.
Of course the taxi is there in less than five minutes and I’m off to the hospital with students 1 and 2. Oh, and for some reason the wife and child of the taxi driver came along for the ride, why I have no idea. Here I am, thinking we are going to one of the main hospitals in the center of the city, probably the one I have to do the yearly health checks at to renew my VISA. No, we’re headed out somewhere past the train station in a part of the city I have never seen, let alone have any clue where I am. Thirty minutes later and we are at the hospital, or at least I think it’s a hospital as it has a giant red cross on the roof, but looks more like an old factory. After going through a random metal door, I discovered it was in fact a hospital. Now the fun can really begin and I am very glad student 1 came along to do the translating.
Student 1- Student 2’s dad says to watch your stuff as they will try to pickpocket you.
What followed was an interesting mix of standing in line, and wondering just what the heck was going on.
Line 1- I can see what looks like a doctor, or nurse talking inside to a patient so maybe this is the right line, as people fill the tiny hallway, which reminds me the hospital Jason Bourne wakes up at in the first movie. Ok, it wasn’t the right line.
Line 2- Maybe this will be the right one as it is in a less crowded part of the hospital with what I hope is a homeless person sleeping in the corner. Nope….. wrong one.
Line 1 again- this time a cleaning lady is trying to mop the floor in the packed hallway…… nope still wrong.
Line 3- Now we move to the other side of the hallway to wait for the free X-ray….. I wasn’t able to tell, but I’m not sure if triage is a thing here, as mixed in with all the people were numerous people lying on gurneys and some of them weren’t pretty. It was taking too long and Student 2’s father reappeared out of the masses to take us to the paid X-ray, which was in a small clinic across the street from the hospital. It took all of 10-15minutes and we left the South Korean clinic, X-ray in hand, to head back to the hospital.
Back to line 2- This was the correct line and as we waited for student 2 I explained how the American healthcare system worked to student 1.
Line 4- We are now were standing in line for the cast.
Student 1 and 2- Mr. Meharg can you show us where the break is?
The light wasn’t the best so I had to hold the X-ray film, which they were allowed to keep, up to the light and started pointing things out to them. The other Mongolians in the hallway found this interesting and a few began to mutter to each other. One in particular was the woman on the gurney behind us with a knee the size of a cantaloupe, who grabbed me in pain when her bed bumped against the wall. Knowing some Mongolian beyond taxi directions would have been nice then.
Me- Guys please tell them I’m just a science teacher and not a doctor.
Student 1 and 2- Ok
Whatever they said must have worked, but that just led to a new set of questions. What you have to understand is that I have both of them in my upper level biology class and we cover a fair bit of human anatomy. They also know I spent some time in medical school. “What does that one have?” became the question of the hour. Needless to say, trying to explain that the patient wheeled by on the gurney towards the CAT scan while bleeding from the nose and ears was not the type of question I expected to hear. Nor was trying to explain things to them in a gentle manner, but that wasn’t the worst of it.
Then there was woman who limped by looking like she was worked over by a crowbar, with police following behind her. It was at this point I discovered that the doorway I am standing in is the doorway to the police station in the hospital. Some random guy then rushes past everyone and a cop comes out asking stuff in Mongolian, and student 2 tells me he wants to know where the guy just went. I really do get to see lots of different facets of Mongolia. Nothing much happened after that beyond another cop walking by with some plastic cases that I really didn’t want to have to explain, but luckily my students were munching on candy bars by that point. One hard cast later and the Mongolian healthcare adventure ended with the dad dropping me back at the school.
One of my coworkers asked me the next day why I didn’t just leave once I dropped them off with student 2’s dad at the hospital. Three reasons:
1- It didn’t seem right, given how crazy the place was.
2- Morbid curiosity about the Mongolian healthcare system.
3- I had no idea where I was or how to get back to the school.