What is medical tourism? It's a a new term for when people travel for medical treatment. Medical tourism may sound new, but it isn’t a new phenomenon. According to the history books (since I wasn't around personally to verify), Ancient Mesopotamians traveled to Syria in search of a cure for eye disorders as early as the third millennium B.C. Flip a few pages in those same history books and you'll learn that the Greeks and Romans traveled to spas all around the Mediterranean in search of cures. If you've watched at least one 18th century movie in your life, you'll also recall that upper class Europeans traveled to spa destinations—such as Bath and St. Moritz—to cure their ills by taking the waters and reveling in the temperate climates.
In our lifetimes (aka the twentieth century), wealthy folks of underdeveloped nations traveled to first-world countries in order to get the best treatment money could buy. After all, what's the use of having money if you can't spend it on the best! But the tide has turned over the past decade and a half. People are primarily traveling outside of their native first-world country for a more affordable treatment in a developing nation.
Getting less expensive medical procedures through medical tourism is on the rise because of an aging population combined with rising healthcare costs in countries like the United States. According to Deloitte consulting services, 875,000 Americans were medical tourists in 2010.
Although medical tourism destinations include countries such as Thailand, South Africa and Hungary, one of the most popular medical tourism destinations is Panama. Why Panama? Because Panama is a relatively Americanized country with an English-speaking medical community.
According to a report on medical tourism published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, procedures can be 40 to 70 percent cheaper in Panama than in the U.S. For example, an $80,000 dental implant procedure in America will cost about $25,000 in Panama. For the uninsured—and the underinsured—this savings is worth the cost of a short vacation to Panama.
All types of medical procedures are available in Panama. Elective procedures such as dental implants, cataract surgery, and cosmetic surgery are in the media's spotlight, but more acute conditions such as knee replacements and open heart surgery are also available. Other procedures that top the list are those not covered by traditional insurance, such as fertility treatments and even stem cell therapy.
There are many reasons Panama is a popular medical tourism destination.
- Panama is tourist friendly. It’s easy to get in and out of Panama, as there are direct flights from most major Western cities. Plus, most people do not need to apply for a tourist visa.
- Panama is safe. Panama is as safe for tourists as any big city in the U.S.
- Panama is English friendly. Many people in Panama speak English as a second language, from taxi drivers to hotel staff to doctors and nurses.
- Many doctors are Western-trained. Not only do most doctors in Panama speak English, but many have been trained in the United States.
- Panama City has first-world infrastructure. Panama City has modern highways, high-speed Internet, high-end shopping malls, top-notch restaurants.
- Panama has high-end hotels and condo rentals where patients can recover. Patients have choices such as 4- and 5-star hotels, such as the Waldorf Astoria, the Westin, and the InterContinental. They can also stay in beachfront rentals for as little as $100 per night.
- The tap water is safe to drink. This is a rarity in Latin America, and it also means that the produce is safe to eat.
- Panama has a stable economy. Panama's currency is based on the U.S. Dollar, and unemployment is at an all-time low.
- Panama has accredited hospitals and U.S. Hospital Affiliations. Many hospitals have an accreditation on par with top hospitals in the U.S. and Canada. Plus, other hospitals have U.S. affiliations. For example, the Hospital Punta Pacifica is affiliated with Johns Hopkins International.
Medical tourism has done a lot to improve the quality of care in Panama, especially in Panama City. Plus, the tourist dollars are helping the economy.
Panama has invested in technology, accreditation and infrastructure, making it a prime medical tourism destination. If you are interested in medical tourism, we can help. Contact us and let us know what you're interested in, and we will help you navigate the waters.