Our first healthcare experience


Several months before we made our move to Panama Scott was diagnoses with a hernia. We debated back and forth about weather it would be best to get this taken care of before our move or to have it fixed after we moved to Panama. The hernia wasn’t bothering him at the time, and the doctor said it was not something that needed immediate attention. At first we both had the knee-jerk opinion that it would be best to have surgery in the U.S. Scott made an appointment to have a consultation with a surgeon ($400.00) after a 5 minute consultation where the surgeon confirmed, “yep, you have a hernia” (a 5 min consult and that was that), Scott then began the long and painful process of trying to get someone on the phone who could tell him exactly how much the surgery was going to cost. Gasp! about $8000,00! That is ‘after’ insurance! Well, that wasn’t really gonna work for us. When we talked about it, Scott made the point,” If we don’t trust the healthcare in Panama why are we going?” And he had a point, we had already done our research on the healthcare in Panama and from all the firsthand accounts we had heard nothing but good things. Of course, there were the negative accounts as well, no place is perfect, there’s plenty of bad, scary stories of healthcare in the States as well, but by far, the good out-weighed the bad from what we had been told . So, we decided after much consideration, that we would wait until we got to Panama and dive in to the healthcare system after we got somewhat settled. And that brings us to this post, our first healthcare experience here in Panama.

Originally, I had not planned to publish this post in an effort to respect Scott’s privacy. But from start to finish, we felt so good about our experience and Scott told me he thought I should write about it. So, with his permission I will tell you all about what our firsthand experience of having surgery in a hospital in Panama was like. Hospital Chiriqui to be specific. I had previously written about our experience of getting health insurance here and we were aware that this hernia surgery would not be covered by our new insurance because it was a pre-existing condition. So this surgery would be out of pocket and we were fairly certain the price tag would be significantly lower than the quote we had gotten in the States.

Our consultation with the Surgeon , Dr. Carlos E. Abadia, went very smoothly ( and only cost us $15.00! ). We found him to be very intelligent, professional and caring. His office was very nice and we were glad he spoke very good English. Even though we’re working hard to learn Spanish, we weren’t confident enough to cary on a conversation about something so technical as an operation, who knows what kind of Surgery he would have gotten had we depended on our Spanish! Lol! Well, after a quick exam he confirmed that ,yes, indeed, he agreed that there was a hernia and surgery would be required. He sat back down behind his desk and simply said,”Okay, when would you like to come for surgery? next week?” Ok…..In the states it would have been much, much different. First of all, the doctor wouldn’t have been looking at his own personal calendar , not even the nurse, we would have been standing in a reception area talking to the receptionist about scheduling for maybe one or two months down the road, if we were lucky , or we would have been given a phone number to call to schedule surgery. The Surgeon would have had nothing to do with such mundane things as scheduling our surgery. But Dr. Abadia penciled us in for our surgery and wrote it all down on a prescription type piece of paper with , I’m assuming some sort of directions to the admission office . After choosing a date that we felt would be good for us, he told us to show up at the hospital on that day at “around” 9:00 and take that paper to the admission office. After asking us if we had any other questions that was it! There was no nurse involved at all. From start to finish, our consultation was with the “Surgeon” , he even came to the waiting area to get us and introduced himself with a warm handshake. At first I thought maybe he was the nurse just sent to gather us , but when we entered his office and he took a seat behind the desk, I realized, “oh my, this is actually the Doctor!” So far, this was not bad….

Fast forward to Friday, September 6, at around 9:00am. We made our way to the hospital with our little piece of paper to be delivered to admissions. Scott had fasted the night before as instructed and we were prepared with our “tranquilo” mindset to see what happened. First, the very professional young ladies in the admissions office both spoke English and after complimenting me on my curly hair,( which she just loved, gotta get the “important” stuff out of the way first thing!), she proceeded to pull out about 4-5 official pieces of paper for Scott to sign. She very clearly explained what he was signing and she asked us what type of room we wanted, shared or private (Private, of course! only $75.00 extra), then she very kindly read the papers to us so we would know all the hospital rules and directed us to the cashier down the hall to pay our deposit, ($1,000.00 on our credit card), then she told us to have a seat out in the waiting area and someone would come to get us shortly. So far, so good….

After waiting maybe 5-10 minutes we were greeted by a very friendly young lady, clipboard in hand and led to Scott’s room. The room was very nice, spacious, clean, modern, even a new flat screen tv. The room had a built in cabinet to put your personal belongings , a window, and a very nice private bathroom with a shower. ( I have to tell you about one piece of very valuable advise we got from a good friend who had first hand experience . She told us to be sure to request a “Private” room because if you happened to have a Panamanian room mate the persons entire family would be in the room with them, children and all! She said this had happened to someone she knew and that it was quite a party, food, drinks,music, the works! ) The nurse then directed Scott to undress and put on the customary hospital gown, open in the back, nothing different about that, (which, I may add was very dashing on him!). He got comfy on the bed and there was a nice recliner chair for me to sit and read my book and play on my Ipad while we waited for the fun to begin. It didn’t take long before the nurses began to come to check his blood pressure, weigh him, listen to his heart and take his temperature, all the standard nursey type things one expects . He was soon hooked up to an IV with something , who knows what, filling him up. Then we just watched tv and waited for a few hours until a group of nurses filed in with a rolling bed that they loaded him onto and we said goodbye and they took him away. This was maybe 11:30 . now I wait…..

About 2:30 a very sweet nurse came in to tell me that he was in recovery and doing well. Then at about 3:00 they wheeled him back in and I was pleasantly surprised that he was wide awake and didn’t even seem very groggy or anything. I expected him to be pretty out of it but he looked great, as though nothing had happened at all!! I was suspicious that maybe they decided to just give him a rolling tour of the hospital instead of operating on him, was there a bar in this hospital?? I jest, he had indeed been in surgery and was actually quite groggy but had been in recovery for a while and was feelin’ good with the help of some good drugs. The surgeon soon came by to check on him and told us that the surgery went well. Dr Abadia asked him how he was feeling and told us he would be back in the morning to check on him again. I had originally planned to drive home and return in the morning but decided I wanted to stay with him through the night. The recliner was comfy and I had my Ipad charger and free WiFi so I was good to go, no problema!

It was a bit of a long night but I was glad to have stayed with him . In the morning and all through the night the nursing staff was very attentive, coming in to check all his vitals and generally poke and prod him as you would expect for any hospital stay. He was given a choice of breakfast food and after placing his order enjoyed a good breakfast. He had visits from not only the surgeon but also the anesthesiologist who both wanted to know how he was feeling, gave him the details of his surgery and assured him all had gone well but the double hernia made it a difficult procedure. Scott never does anything part way, of course, he had to have a complicated operation! It was actually very good timing for the surgery because the week prior to the procedure he was in quite a bit of pain. We think that the cold he had the week before must have further aggravated the hernia with all the coughing and sneezing.

In the morning we were under the impression that after the surgeon came to check on Scott we would be released and go home. Now, we had been warned by our friends that the check out procedure from the hospital could be rather time consuming and arduous. After my long night with not much sleep, I was in no mood to put up with inefficiencies . So I had decided to be aggressively on top of whatever I had to do to facilitate a painless check out. When Dr. Abadia came to check on Scott I requested the prescriptions for his meds so that I could do that right away. He said okay, and left the room, quickly returning with his hand written prescription for the meds. Scott was still hooked up to an IV and presumably receiving antibiotics and the Doctor told us we would be good to go as soon as the nurse returned to unhook him. Little did we know that would not be until after lunch, but we were gingerly holding onto our “tranquilo” state of mind so , no problem. I used this time to get all the necessary ducks in a row so when that tube was out of his vein we would be out the door and in the car , heading to Boquete. I walked to the hospital pharmacy and managed to purchase the prescriptions ( $ 39.00) and then stopped in the admissions office to find out what I needed to do for check out. The lovely young lady in the office handed me a bill and told me I could go to the cashier window just around the corner to pay the balance due and then bring her the copy of the receipt. No problema, down the hall and around the corner I marched, handed the lady behind the window my little ticket and my credit cart and BOOM! Balance paid, receipt in hand! Oh, the total cost of everything came to $ 2,500.00. Not nearly as painful as the $ 8,000.00 we would have been charged in the States! After giving the admissions office their copy of the receipt, I was instructed to give the nursing station a different little piece of paper indicating we were all paid and ready to go. Scott had eaten a good lunch and was dressed , and unhooked from the IV and ready to go.

As you can see, we feel as though our first real experience with the health care here in Panama has been very positive. We were treated with impressive professionalism and felt cared for throughout our stay at Hospital Chiriqui. There was, gratefully very little ‘red-tape’ to deal with from start to finish for this procedure . And we thought the charges were very reasonable, especially knowing what we would have been charged in the States for much more frustration and much less personal attention. In the States it would have been an out-patient procedure and Scott may have never even met the surgeon, much less the anesthesiologist. Yes, waiting to have this surgery here was a good decision.

About hollycarter184

Life is Good! But it's time for a change, and more adventure! I'd like to share the whole experience of preparing then actually making a reality of expatriating, and moving to a new country. It's an exciting, and slightly scary move full of possibility . I'm looking forward to learning a new language and making new connections with the people who share our spirit of adventure. This blog is my way of continuing my connection with my friends and family in the States. Sooooo here it goes! :)

19 responses »

  1. Wow, although that would have cost nothing here in Canada, a person would have to wait 6 months to a year for the procedure. Mind you, a person would still have to pay for their prescriptions and a private room.

  2. Fortunately, we paid $0 for gallbladder surgery or colonoscopy (or there are the deductibles plus what is taken out of Ray’s pay monthly) BUT the costs without insurance would have been $15K plus 8K. It is just absurd. You are the third person (or Scott is) to experience hospitalizations in Panama, and all three experiences have been along the same lines–very good to excellent. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you for sharing, medical care is always a question anywhere. We will be praying for Scott’s complete and easy recovery.

  4. ​Glad you had a good experience. The doctors and nurses here in Panama are very nice, attentive and professional.
    I had to go to the emergency two years ago here in Coronado after I was stung by a stingray. My experience was very pleasant. The doctor and nurses took great care of me, even called me at home few days later to see how I’m doing.

  5. Wow, you guys are just in a race to experience everything on your adventure! Glad to hear everything went well and now we’ll have something to benchmark any of our future healthcare experiences!

  6. I’m so glad that everything went so well!
    What would it have cost in the US before insurance? More and more, I get the feeling health care here may be even better than in the US. There is still the personal attention and attentive care that has become almost impossible in the US system. I haven’t worked in the hospital in a lot of years but even back when, if we were busy with more critical things it could easily have taken you all morning to get out of there.
    How are things going at home? Recovery going smoothly? I think in any hospital it’s hard to sleep so it’s really good when you can get back to your own home and own bed.
    Thanks for the great post! Everyone seems to have questions about health care here, so I’m going to reblog this on mine.

      • But when I pressed on the Utah pics I ended up in your blog, more precisely, in your pictures of the hospital.
        I am glad the experience has been so positive.

      • I know, technology has let us down, sigh! Oh well, thanks for accidentally visiting my blog! 🙂 Kris told me something strange was happening with the re-blog. Cheers!

  7. BUT – The fat lady hasn’t sung yet. Will Scott still be able to tap dance and play piano like he did in California? I certainly hope so. The operation itself is nothing – you’re zonked out and not around for it. However, the recovery is a bitch and is also when you truly discover the latent skills of your surgeon – if he speaks English or not. Best of luck!

  8. Excellent and informative post. Your best yet. So far, knock on wood, my experience with the Panamanian health care system has been limited to two physicals and a visit to a dermatologist, all at Hospital Chiriqui. My physicals were done by the same doctor who spoke English. The dermatological visit was conducted in Spanish. One thing that’s very different here is that both of the doctors gave me their cell phone numbers. Try THAT in the States!

    About six years ago, when I had my heart attack, I received three stents and was in the hospital for two and a half days. Cost? $58,000!!! I should say that was what they wanted. It ISN’T what they got. And that $58K was AFTER the Medicare payment!

    I’m glad to hear Scott is doing well. Best of everything with your recovery.

  9. Outstanding — so glad to hear that Scott is doing well. This post is another one of your “home runs” and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Your ability to pull us into your adventure make it one of our favorite reads. I’m wondering if there will be anything for us to learn when we do move to Panama — you guys are blazing the trail so well for us that we already feel like we are light years ahead of where we would have been without you.

  10. Great missive about the Panamanian health care program. I’ve found that the Drs. and dentists outside the US are all competant and caring. I think insurance has ruined the US health care business. The doctors have to have lots of staff just to administer the insurance problems.

    A quad bypass for me in 2004 was $86K+, paid by United Healthcare. No one knows what is going to happen with Obamacare, but probably nothing good. Anyway glad that your esposo is doing well. The soreness will go away in a few months.

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