Information for patients
Panama’s health care system is characterised by a large public sector, composed of the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud, MINSA) and the Social Security Fund (Caja de Seguro Social, CSS), as well as a small but expanding private sector. Each operates separate coverage schemes and facilities.
While MINSA services are not completely free, they remain the least expensive option available to low-income groups. MINSA has the most extensive network of health facilities across the country. In 2014, MINSA operated 830 health facilities, significantly more than CSS’s 80 facilities. Together the two institutions provide care in 910 public facilities.
The private sector comprises four large hospitals – Hospital Nacional (HN), Centro Medico Paitilla, Hospital Punta Pacífica (HPP), and Clínica Hospital San Fernando (CHSF) – and a limited number of smaller health establishments. They operate through direct payments.
Information for healthcare professionals
With the completion of a number of infrastructure projects over the coming years, the most significant challenge now is making new facilities operational, given the country’s skill shortage. MINSA estimates the country faces a shortage of some 190 general practitioners, 700 nurses and another 700 medical technicians. Gynaecology, cardiology, anaesthesiology and neurology are some of the areas most affected by the shortfall in staffing levels, contributing to long waiting periods for patients in need of medical services in these areas. The government has recently passed a bill to allow recruitment of international health workers to fill in the gaps in the health system.
Information for travellers
Emergency medical services are primarily in Panama City where 911 service is available. Outside Panama City and David, they drop off dramatically. Boquete, has limited capability despite a large ex-pat population. In the indigenous areas, MINSA is the only provider and there are very limited hospital facilities.
Foreigners working in Panama are entitled to coverage under CSS, provided they pay taxes. Tourists were previously entitled to free medical insurance for 30 days for accidents and unforeseeable illnesses, up to a maximum of $7000. However, to curb rising costs, this was eliminated in June 2014. Despite the lower costs for healthcare services in Panama, it is advisable that visitors get an extensive travel and medical insurance, beforehand.
Medical tourism is yet not very well developed in Panama. Prices are significantly cheaper than in the United States or other highly developed nations. Some doctors are highly trained in the United States but few are board-certified. However, many are trained in high quality medical schools in Spain, Mexico, Panama, and a few in Cuba.
Link to Ministry of Health: http://www.minsa.gob.pa