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!