Going to the Doctor


I confess – I haven’t been to a doctor since I arrived in Panama in August 2018. I can buy the medications I’ve been taking for a long time without a prescription here and have only had a couple of colds that I treated myself, so I didn’t feel like it was necessary.

But lately my blood pressure has crept up a bit, so I figured it was time to get a check-up. So I thought I’d share my experience as to how medical issues are handled in Panama – at least in my experience for routine medical care so far. Fingers crossed that “routine” remains the norm for me for a long time!

I walked into the doctor’s office without an appointment, which is pretty much unheard of in the US, and was seen by the doctor within a minute of my arrival. She led me to her office and took my medical history, then listened to my lungs and heart, took my blood pressure, checked lymph nodes in my neck for swelling – all the basic physical exam stuff.

She wanted to get a baseline EKG, in case heart issues ever came into play at a later date. This was done immediately after my exam in another room at the doctor’s office by the doctor’s assistant, and I was given a copy to take home for my files.

The doctor also gave me a list of about 15 lab tests (complete blood panel, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, liver function, urinalysis, etc.). Since we live in the tropics, she also ordered a test for intestinal parasites. I took this list to the laboratory and they gave me the prices and containers for the samples needed for the urinalysis and parasite check. I took the containers home and collected the required samples, then took them back to do the blood draw. Again, no more than a couple of minutes’ wait, and I was on my way. The test results will be available in three days, rather than the usual two or three weeks in the US.

I have medical insurance, but it’s basically to cover me for major illnesses or hospitalization. So, without using my major medical insurance, how much did the exam, EKG, and lab tests cost me? Here’s the breakdown:

  • Doctor office visit – $12
  • EKG – $40
  • 15 lab tests – $112 (the full price was $140, but since I’m a permanent Panamanian resident and am a woman over 55, I get a 20% discount – sometimes it pays to be old!)
  • Return visit to doctor to go over lab results – $12

Total (without using insurance): $176

Back in Oklahoma with insurance through my workplace, my co-pay for a routine visit to the doctor’s office was $35 and required an appointment made in advance. I routinely got a test to check my blood sugar each time I saw the doctor, and even with good insurance, the cost for this ONE test was over $100. I can’t imagine how much all of these comprehensive tests – plus an EKG – would cost!

Needless to say, I’m pretty happy with the cost and relative ease of acquiring medical care in Panama so far. Fortunately, I haven’t had any major events to test the quality of the hospitals here, but I’ve heard from a couple of people who’ve had major surgeries for badly broken bones, and they have nothing but good things to say about their care, both in the hospital and afterward during their rehabilitation.

I have to mention a wonderful volunteer organization we have here – Boquete Health & Hospice. Not only do they provide end-of-life care, but they also organize blood donation events and have medical equipment for use by those in Boquete who need them – things like canes, crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen concentrators, hospital beds, etc. These items are loaned, and donations are accepted for their use. Many more services are available – they provide such a needed service to the community!

UPDATE 12/8/19: I received my lab results yesterday and went back to the doctor to give her the report. I’m happy to say that the results were pretty darn positive, and I’ll live to see another day!

11 comments… add one
  • Laura Dec 4, 2019 Link Reply

    Wow! Glad you are taking care of yourself. You were on mind today as I put on my wreath pin and remembered meeting you.

    • Myra Dec 7, 2019 Link Reply

      As our clay retreat approaches, I’ve been thinking of my “poly clay peeps”, too! Merry Christmas – hope to see you soon!

  • Sara Klehn Harvey Dec 4, 2019 Link Reply

    I’m glad you’re being proactive and healthy! Those prices would take the sting out of getting bloodwork drawn.

  • Day Dec 5, 2019 Link Reply

    I’ve had very similar experiences. I had a chest xray last month in minutes and it was $13. They are very thorough when talking with the patient. Never rushed out of the office. Very thankful to have access to medical care here, didn’t for years in the states. Glad you’re doing well.

  • Bill Eudy Dec 5, 2019 Link Reply

    I think having health insurance that covers all or part of everything has disconnected doctors and patients in an unhealthy way. We don’t know what things cost anymore and often our Doctors don’t know either. Sometimes I think they do know but are reluctant to share the information because they suspect we will consider the price to be ridiculous on its face. Our system is broken and it can’t be fixed unless we have more transparency and begin to reign in unrestrained profiteering by third parties like insurance companies as well as multi-unit hospital corporations medical device manufacturers and big pharma. The problem it that the reformers in government don’t want to fix it so much as to take it over. If they do take it over the system will be outrageously mismanaged and as long as they restrain themselves and refrain from upsetting the apple cart they can count on payola from the profiteers. Who would have thought that the prime reason someone might have for moving to Central America is to escape corruption?

    • Myra Dec 7, 2019 Link Reply

      The cost of medical care and the corruption associated with that industry wasn’t the primary reason I moved to Panama, but it was certainly a consideration.

  • Linette Dec 5, 2019 Link Reply

    That’s is excellent!

  • Lee Ann Dec 6, 2019 Link Reply

    Medical was one of the things I was worried about when you said you were moving to Panama. Am so glad to here everything is AOK. Merry Christmas!

  • Barb Goltry Dec 6, 2019 Link Reply

    Well! That must bring your blood pressure down. Do you get to see the same physicians each time?

    • Myra Dec 7, 2019 Link Reply

      Yes, at this clinic there are two doctors. One is there in the morning and afternoon, and the other (the one I saw) is in the office from 4 to 9 p.m. They may have someone there for emergencies also, or at least a number you can call for assistance. Not sure about that.

  • Penni Jo Jan 21, 2020 Link Reply

    So glad to hear that you are doing very well!! Thanks so much for sharing with us so that we my live vicariously through your adventures. ((((Hugs))))
    Penni Jo

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