Rising healthcare costs in the United States, and endemic waiting lists in Canada, have made some individuals increasingly interested in medical tourism to other countries.
Panama has some of the highest quality healthcare systems in Latin America, which is an increasingly attractive option for those looking for affordable quality healthcare. The Panamanian healthcare system is both private and public.
The public system is divided into two components provided by the government, Caja de Seguro Social (CSS), which is the equivalent of a social security system, and Ministerio de Salud (MINSA), which translates to the ministry of health. Residents who work pay into and have coverage (receive free treatment) by CSS. MINSA is in place to deal with anyone who does not have coverage by CSS and offers inexpensive treatment. Expat residents who work in Panama probably pay into and have coverage by the CSS system, but even if you are not, you can still use it or MINSA clinics on a pay-as-you-go basis.
While public hospitals offer reasonable care, most expats prefer the private option. Though significantly more expensive than a visit to a MINSA clinic or public hospital, private health care in Panama is still quite affordable by western standards. Panamanian doctors frequently speak in English; many attended medical school in the United States or are specialists trained internationally. Private hospitals in Panama feature substantially reduced waiting times, a more customer service-oriented approach on the part of the staff, more advanced technology and superior medical procedures, and a generally higher standard of care and medical equipment.
QUALITY OF CARE
In a study of U.S. retirees living abroad in Mexico and Panama, respondents overwhelmingly described the level of attention and time they received from physicians to be substantially better than what they were used to at home. Those surveyed in this study primarily relied upon private hospitals and found the quality to be similar to what they were used to in the United States, at a much lower price. By law, Panamanian retirees are entitled to a 20-25% discount on their doctor’s bill.
While the quality of care in Panama is similar to what you might find in North America or Europe, healthcare services cost a fraction of what you might pay elsewhere, even at private hospitals. Public hospitals are also reasonable and much cheaper, but delays or overcrowding are something you may encounter some issues with. Health insurance plans can be purchased to cover catastrophic care, but many people choose to self-insure because most visits to the doctor are so inexpensive anyway.
TOP HOSPITALS IN PANAMA
Hospital Punta Pacifica
Hospital Punta Pacifica is a pristine medical facility with pristine equipment located in downtown Panama City and only fifteen minutes away from the Tocumen International Airport. Founded in 1999, Punta Pacifica is affiliated with Johns Hopkin Medicine International and is widely considered to be one of the best hospitals in Central America. In 2016, they were the site of the first heart transplant in Panamanian history. The recipient of the heart was a 51-year-old Panamanian woman.
One of the oldest hospitals in Panama is Paitilla Hospital, in Paitilla. They are best known for their oncology unit and specialists, along with,
- Radiology and Imaging
- Cancer Center
- Cardiac Catheterization Unit
- Critical Care Unit for newborns and adults
Clinica Hospital San Fernando
Another highly rated private hospital in Panama City is “San Fernando Hospital,” located in Vía España, Panamá, as it is known to English speakers. With 400 physicians and 111 hospital beds, San Fernando Hospital handles a wide range of medical specialists, such as
- Cardiac Surgeons
- Dialysis Specialists
- Vascular Surgeons
And much more. Since its inception in 1949, the Clinica Hospital San Fernando (the first private hospital in the Republic of Panama) has strived to provide first-rate medical care to its customers. In 2011, they were accredited by the Joint Commission International, an NGO that provides accreditation to hospitals around the world.
Hospital Nacional opened on July 9th, 1973, in Panama City. It was originally named Clinica Nacional or informally “Clinica de la Mujer” as they specialized in OB/GYN services, but today it has grown into a full-fledged medical facility. This hospital features:
- An Emergency Room
- A 24/7 operating room capable of handling all major surgeries
- Pharmacology department
- Blood Bank
- Medical Imaging
- Physical Therapy
And much more. Hospital Nacional is renowned for the high level of care patients receive in their facility.
David is home to 2 private hospitals. The David Chiriqui hospital is a full-service private hospital used by many expats. The Mae Lewis hospital is another private facility also used by many expats. The David hospital offers a discount health program where doctors and hospital charges are reduced by 50%.
Relevant article: The Basics Of How To Get A Second Passport Or A Second Residency
WHY DO PEOPLE COME TO PANAMA FOR HEALTH CARE?
With onerous regulations making it difficult for a private healthcare option to develop in most parts of Canada, many people are choosing medical tourism as a means of escaping endemic waiting lists. Cosmetic surgery, operations to operations for obesity, hip and knee replacements and Lasik eye surgery are only a few of the procedures opted for in Panama. Of course, cosmetic surgery prices and all other procedures vary per factor involved.
Thousands of Canadians die every year while waiting for medical treatment, and countless more suffer needlessly, unable to access so-called “elective” treatments. Why wait a year or two for an MRI in Canada when you could spend a few hundred dollars and get scanned right away in Panama? With very few private options within Canada, the only choice for people who don’t want to queue endlessly is to get on a plane. Panama offers an excellent mix of affordability and high-quality medical treatment.
For Americans, hospital visits can be expensive, even if you do have insurance. Prolonged health problems can mean tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills. While the standard of medical care at American facilities is generally excellent, nobody wants to experience medical bankruptcy. Even just the high cost of medical insurance can be a tough pill to swallow. With operations in Panama costing just a fraction of what you would pay in the U.S.A., medical tourism can be a sound financial choice for many, especially if you don’t have insurance.
Between the high standard of care, the fact that many medical professionals in Panama speak English and Spanish, and the reasonable prices, there is much to recommend about Panamanian health care for prospective expats or medical tourists. Panama has many world-class hospitals and capable, foreign-trained doctors that can handle virtually any medical need.
Dental care is also significantly less expensive in Panama, and even smaller towns and cities will often have many dental clinics and providers to choose from. Expat groups in the area you are interested in can be a great source of recommendations and reviews of different doctors, dentists, and clinics.
The approximate charges for healthcare services are as follows:
- Doctor consultations and house calls cost at most $45 USD
- Lab test services cost 50% of what the pricing is in the US
- In-Patient services cost less than $100 USD a night
- Teeth cleaning at dentists cost $90 USD
- Eye examinations are absolutely free as long as you purchase your glasses from them.
Bring any prescription drugs you currently take with you. Should you find that you have left a medication that you need at home, there will be a ‘Farmacia’ or pharmacy on just about every corner in the cities, and they often have an impressive selection of pharmaceuticals. Many medications that require a prescription in the U.S. or Canada do not require prescriptions in Panama. Farmacia clerks can usually look up medications, and you may be able to have your prescriptions refilled without a doctor’s prescription. Should that not be the case, seeing a doctor in order to renew a prescription will not be an expensive proposition.
Panama is a wonderful country for medical tourism. There are many places that offer top-notch healthcare services, with state-of-the-art equipment and a much lower cost than you will find in the USA, Canada, and even some European countries. If you want more information on medical tourism, you can click here, where we list some of the best countries for medical tourism and give yourself some peace of mind if ever you need an appointment and procedure that in your country would be overly expensive.