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A Close-Up Look at Health Care in Cuba

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Photo above: Students finish a class in the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana.

While health care is always a hot topic in the U.S., a University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College professor recently had the opportunity to see how the health care system operates in Cuba.

Eric Charlton is a professor in our Allied Health Department who is working on his PhD in leadership and change in health care. His research took him to Havana, Cuba in spring 2018 to meet with health care professionals and learn more about their system.


Photo of Professor Charlton (left) with the manager (right) of a maternal home for at-risk pregnant women.

Similar to the U.S., there are three layers to health care in Cuba – consultorios are like a doctor’s office, a polyclinic is similar to an urgent care or medical clinic, and the hospitals treat serious or life-threatening illnesses and deliver babies.

A National Health System

A key difference in Cuba is that it’s a government-run national health system. Charlton says that, for the most part, health care is free. It is a poor country though and there are often shortages in medicine. Many caregivers also struggle to make a good living. Charlton spoke to one doctor who said he makes the equivalent of about $20 a month.

Another difference that Charlton noticed is with the consultorios and the relationship building that occurs. The nurses and doctors live in the communities they serve and are able to spend a little more time with their patients. “The personal connection is more intimate than what we have in the U.S. In our system, doctor appointments are scheduled 15 minutes apart, but there it’s more one-on-one and the interactions are not so rushed.”

Alternative Medicine & An Aging Population

Other key characteristics with Cuba’s health care – patients and caregivers are very open to alternative medicine, there is no real opioid issue (main addiction problem is alcohol), and it is an aging population (cancer rates are up, while the birth rate is down). There are also no electronic medical records yet in Cuba, everything is still recorded on paper.

Charlton says he has always been interested in Cuba, so it was fascinating to see a country he had already studied in so much detail. “It’s just a very unique place. I would love to go back again in 5–10 years.”


Photo of an example of the older-model cars that are used for taxi’s throughout Cuba.

About Lori Rinehart

Lori Rinehart is the Communications Intern at UC Blue Ash for the 2018-19 academic year. Lori studies Journalism and Spanish at the University of Cincinnati Uptown campus.