Before I talk about the medical care in El Valle de Anton, please let me explain the three types of medical care in Panama:
Ministry of Health
The Ministry of Health clinic is primarily for poor people who don’t have much money or who may not have any money. However, anyone (an expat or even a tourist) can go there and pay a nominal charge. There are no doctors in private practice in El Valle so if you wanted to see a doctor in El Valle, you would go to the Ministry of Health facility here. If they needed to, they would transport you to the Ministry of Health hospital in Penonome.
Regarding the price you’ll pay at the Ministry of Health, I’ll give you an example. An old classmate of mine came down here four or five years ago. He rented a motorbike and went on a rally of some sort. He had an accident and ended up in the hospital for three days in a town in the interior (“interior” means: not in Panama City). I think his bill was $24 when he left.
If, as an expat in El Valle, you break a leg or you get bitten by a snake or something like that and you go to the Ministry of Health clinic here, the chances are that you will get somebody to take you who speaks both English and Spanish. You may not get the best possible care and you’re not going to get a Board certified doctor. What you will get is a “country doctor.” They train doctors in Panama to go to the interior (El Valle is in the interior).
The Ministry of Health also has a big hospital in Panama City and I’ve heard doctors say that if they needed an operation, they would go there, because they have good surgeons and they have a good operating theater. Generally, in that hospital (and this is probably the case with the other Ministry of Health hospitals in Panama as well), your relatives are going to have to feed you and bring you linens. You’ll get treated medically but they may not have the wherewithal to give you the hospital stay that you’d get in the States. The quality of the doctors you’ll get depends on your need. For example, we had someone here in El Valle who broke his pelvis and they took him to the Ministry of Health hospital in Penonome and they weren’t able to do much for him, so he had to eventually go down to a private hospital in the city of Panama.
If I needed medical attention and I’m in a hurry, I would go to the Ministry of Health Clinic here in El Valle. If I had more time, I would go to see my doctor in Panama City. The doctors at the Ministry of Health Clinic in El Valle have clinic hours in the morning, which is mainly for women and their babies, but if you go in because you’ve had an accident or got bitten or something like that, they have an anti-venom serum. If you need it, they’ll take you in an ambulance to Penonome, to a Ministry of Health hospital about an hour and a half away, and where you can get pretty much everything you need.
Panama Social Security
This covers people who are employees who are paying into the Social Security Fund. Expats don’t go there.
Private Medical Practice
This is the top level of care in Panama, comparable to the standards in the US or Europe. Most of the doctors who studied in the States (and there are definitely lots of them practicing here in Panama who have studied in the States) are Board certified in their specialty. We don’t have any private practice physicians in El Valle, but in Coronado, which is about 45 minutes away, there is San Fernando Clinic, which is a branch of San Fernando Hospital, one of the three best hospitals in Panama City and where they have English speaking doctors and nurses. If, at the San Fernando Clinic, you need more care than they can give you here, they stabilize you, put you in an ambulance and take you down to their hospital in the city, where there are even more people who speak English and a first rate hospital.