A Hospital Stay in David, Panama

It wasn’t me! Of course it is an unfortunate thing when anyone has to go to the hospital though. This friend was kind enough to share his story with me, including a photo of the final bill. He’s also doing much better now and feeling like himself again.

(by the way, the banner photo was lifted from the hospital website http://www.hospitalchiriqui.com/  It’s worth a visit if you want to know more about the hospital, their staff, their services, etc.)

First, a bit of background. There are two health care systems here, the public system and the private system. In the public system, word is you can see a doctor for $.50. I’ve heard really low prices for other things too. At the hospital it is said that your family is expected to take care of you as much as possible, but the hospital staff is there for all your medical needs. I haven’t been in a public clinic or hospital so I have no first hand knowledge of anything, but it’s nice to know you can get care even if you don’t have much money.

The other system is private and priced accordingly. A visit to a doctor is $30-50 depending on specialty. My friend’s hospital care was professional and appropriate. The room was larger than some I’ve seen in the US. There was a standard bed with buttons to adjust the head and foot, a call light, a TV, just what you would expect to see in the US. They had modern IV pumps to regulate the IV’s and medications, and a modern oxygen concentrator. The nurses were kind and came promptly when called. They didn’t speak English though so my friend was happy to have his translation app in his smart phone.

It started on Monday afternoon when I took my friend to see a lung doctor recommended by another friend. The doctor saw him almost immediately, was very concerned about his condition and admitted him to the hospital. There was a visit to the admissions clerk to share some standard information and get a deposit of $500 (credit card works). Then he was taken directly to the room and settled in. He was there until Friday afternoon, $1673.55.

The breakdown of the bill – the room was $1572.58. Additional charges – $125.80 respiratory care (probably the oxygen equipment), dietetic $6.25, general chemical $12 (I think laboratory tests), x-rays $45, serology $30 (more lab tests), hematology $7, bacteriology $17.50, and special chemical $150 (all of those lab tests, I believe). These charges include the doctors fees of $600 for his stay. The total was actually $1966.33 but with the retired senior citizen discount of $292.78 his total was 1673.55 for the four days he was hospitalized, for everything.

Thank you my friends for sharing your experience with all my blog readers! A big concern for many people, of course, is the availability, cost, and quality of health care. This is even a huge relief to me. We are healthy and have opted to pay cash rather than get insurance here (we have coverage in the US but we’d have to get there) and this tells me that our savings though miserably inadequate for anything in the US, would cover quite a lot in Panama even in the private system.

I’m a retired nurse so in a better position than some to judge care, and what I saw was very good. The doctor spoke English which was a big help to my friends, and he recognized what needed to be done immediately and got things moving. I didn’t stick around that night, but the next morning my friend was getting oxygen, IV fluids, antibiotics and appropriate treatment for his condition.  When things didn’t move forward as well as hoped, other treatments and medications were prescribed. After what I saw I would feel very confident going to the hospital and my friend says he was very happy with his care there.

My friends were only visiting here in preparation for moving in the future. It is recommended that you check out the health care when you visit to be sure it provides what you might need. I think these people did that and then some!! Best of all though, my friend is feeling ever so much better and now maybe he and his wife can actually enjoy their last week here.

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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19 Responses to A Hospital Stay in David, Panama

  1. Cathy Virgenock says:

    A very good post! I was wondering if I could visit a hospital while I am there next month …. and if so, would I just walk in and start looking around. Is there an “Info” desk? I would love a guided tour but I’?m sure it would impose on the staff. This post tells me a lot about what I would want to ask them. Please tell ypur friend “thanks” for sharing. So did he get the “retired senior discount” even though be was not yet on the pensionado program?

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    • I don’t know if the hospital gives tours. It might be a problem for staff time and patient privacy, but you can walk in and wander down the public hallways. If you have some medical concerns you could certainly have a consultation with a doctor to discuss available care, medications, etc. Keep in mind that though medical care is much cheaper, medications are not. They can be as expensive as in the US.
      Yes, you often get the senior discount for health care and pharmacy because of your age regardless of your residency status. Restaurants, buses, and planes will want to see your card though.

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  2. Gary Boyd says:

    Thanks for the info Kris. Shared it on my page for my curious friends in the states.

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  3. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    Glad to hear a good outcome for your friend. Even in the US, having someone bedside while in the hospital is a very good idea.
    This post reminded me of Larry Matthews’ blog of years past. He lived in David and he penned a post comparing US to Panama healthcare after returning to the USA which I thought was very balanced. He fought chronic lung problems for years.
    http://larrytravels.typepad.com/larrys_travels/2013/09/what-is-a-good-healthcare-system.html

    I have also been reading of the doctor strike which took place in Panama City protesting medicine shortages and missed payments by the government. Has any of that happened in David?
    jim

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    • Thanks, excellent post by Larry. Yes indeed you need to have someone looking out for you in the US and as Larry said, you need to inform yourself and care for yourself as much as possible wherever you are.
      No, I haven’t heard anything about doctors strikes or problems here, but then I don’t always know what is going on.

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  4. Thank you for sharing Kris.. and makes me all the more pleased I live in the UK. xx

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  5. Linda McKee says:

    Good post as always Kris. Our experience was not that good. Although we did get some good care at Hospital Mae Lewis we ended up with a specialist at Hospital Chiriqui who charged high prices and sent us away without a diagnosis and with a shitload of drugs. It has been my experience that the quality of care varies greatly and fees are also highly variable. I personally know 3 people who have had knee surgeries by the most recommended surgeon and then had to go back to the US to get them redone. I know we all want to believe that the quality of care we can find in our adopted country is top notch but after 10 years I think mostly it is not. People with serious health issues need to carefully consider this before moving.

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    • Generally people I have talked to about their care here have been happy. I’m really sorry to hear you were such an unfortunate exception.
      I agree entirely that people with health issues should carefully research to see if their needs will be adequately met here. They also need to consider how far they are from help in an emergency, availability and cost of meds, and availability of a doctor they feel comfortable with.
      What is up with the knee surgeries?? I think anything elective like that, I’d go back to the US where my Obamacare, and soon Medicare would cover it.

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      • jim and nena says:

        Hola Kris,
        I have read 5 or 6 blog entries that reported about knee or back surgeries that did not go well. They began by stating that the required screws and plates were not available and would have to be paid for and then wait until they arrived, sometimes a week or two. There have been a couple of cases where the patient died before the surgery could be done, usually from infection contracted in the hospital. I’m with you, I would head to the US if at all possible but sometimes it is not possible.

        I think we must be exceptions because we have almost always gotten excellent care in the US. We had HMOs where I worked that covered what few hospital stays we have had. I haven’t figured out exactly how Medicare works yet; we get a bill with greatly discounted prices based on what Medicare allows. We don’t have the Medicare that covers drugs but we don’t have chronic diseases so those costs are low.

        We do take fruit baskets and sometimes empanadas to the doctor’s office so maybe we are getting “special” pricing? I have a really deep appreciation of the nursing staff as they are the heavy lifters of the medical profession and they never get the credit they deserve.
        jim

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        • I’m getting the feeling that orthopedic surgeries may be better in the US. It doesn’t surprise me that plates and screws may have to be ordered in. Those things are probably expensive so they don’t keep them on hand. But, things don’t always go well in the US either. I have stories… you can imagine.
          I don’t think your gifts affect your prices, but I’m sure they are very appreciated. It’s nice of you to take healthy things too. Medical staff gets gifted way too much candy!

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  6. raj484 says:

    I was in terrible pain a few months ago and went to the ER at the public hospital in San Carlos. I had to pay $1 and have the receipt before the doctor would consult with me. The doctor wanted X-rays and that had to be paid up front ($30). Turned out to be sciadic pain (but was different than I knew). I had two different IVs and the whole bill was $31. I didn’t even ask for my pensionado discount. I even have the X-rays that were taken on a disc. My copay in the US is way more than that and I got good car, the doctor spoke some English and with my tiny bit of Spanish, we managed. I was. Very happy with the care and have not had an episode since.

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  7. Carole says:

    Your friend was lucky you were there to visit with him. In a strange country it must have been a comfort. Thanks for the info. Always very informative.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this information Kris.
    It can be scary to be in a country other than your “home country” and discover you need medical care and not know what to do, where to go or how you’ll be treated when you get there. You have done your fellow ex-pats and future visitors to Panama a wonderful service in covering this topic. It always amazes me how much less health care costs in countries other than the US and often there is no reduction (or very little) in the quality of care received. Sometimes it’s even better to get cared for overseas. Often, I think Americans are shown more respect by the medical community overseas than here at “home.”
    While in Morocco, Tomas became aware of a bulge in his lower abdomen. It was not painful but it caused him discomfort enough to seek medical help. Fortunately, we had a go-to person who knew the community well and spoke English. He recommended a doctor who spoke French (which Tomas was able to navigate) and was diagnosed, including X-ray, with a hernia for $20 US. We could have had it surgically repaired for about $700 US — probably about the cost of his Medicare co-pay but he was also covered by the VA for free, so we elected to have the surgery done when we returned to the US. That was the correct decision for our situation and Tomas his “better than new” now (surgery finally took place while we were still in Arkansas last September.)
    The other benefit of medical care overseas is that many of the Rx prescriptions cost much less in their “farmacias.” I had been using and anti-fungal cream that cost me $50 a tube w/o Rx drug coverage. We could purchase the same thing over the counter in Morocco for a couple of dollars. Thanks again for reporting your friend’s experience.

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    • I was glad I could help my friends a bit, and had other friends who could help steer us in the right direction. And yes, the lower cost of care is a real relief to us and many others. There is a reason “medical tourism” is a thing. Medications however, may or may not be less expensive. We have found OTC things like cold medicine much cheaper, but prescription drugs can be costly.
      I’m glad to hear Tom was treated well and got everything taken care of. Joel is also covered by the VA and they have taken excellent care of him. As you said, you have to look at the options available and make the best decision under the circumstances. We would also probably go back to the VA if we could for their good care, and more familiar language and surroundings.

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