For a number of years now, Panama has been a preferred destination for foreign patients looking for good medical care at reasonable prices. When the boom began, health visitors only sought medical attention in the capital city, but now they are also looking to the country’s interior.
Professionalism, affordable prices and excellent treatment are turning Chitre into a medical tourism destination par excellence.
The wide range of hotels with affordable rates is another advantage that motivates tourists to seek medical attention in the “City that grows on its own”.
Health tourism is becoming increasingly popular in the city of Chitre, mainly due to the growing demand created by foreigners residing both in Herrera and the province of Los Santos.
Although a formal service to promote medical tourism internationally has yet to be organized for this region, area doctors are beginning to see this possibility as an excellent business opportunity.
A good private hospital structure, access to high-quality medicines, equipment and specialized medical personnel are some of the benefits foreigners consider when seeking medical services in Azuero.
They also seek costs that are better than those of their home countries, and even lower than those offered in Panama City.
The vast majority of foreign patients traveling to the Azuero region – specifically Chitre – to receive medical attention, come on the referral of a relative or friend who already lives in the surrounding area and has used the region’s medical platform successfully, explains Dr. Jose Trinidad Castillero, medical director at one of the clinics that provides this service.
There are no statistics on the number of patients attended or their countries of origin, but this figure increases with the large number of Azuero natives who live abroad and usually return to the country when they retire.
In addition, there are those who want their children to be born in the same place they were born, says Castillero.
He added that patients from other areas of the country are also participating in this growing health tourism trend, traveling to Chitre for medical attention.
Salvadoran Karla Guerra is married to a Panamanian. When she became pregnant, they decided their child would be born in Panama.
And although their son ended up coming into the world in the capital city and not Chitre, as his father had wished, the child is Panamanian; now both parents place their trust in Panamanian physicians over those in their country of residence.
Some of the main reasons that health services are promoted in Chitre are the good recommendations that patients give to others; the much lower costs; and the fact that patients can take advantage of their stay to visit nearby beaches or mountains, or participate in one of the region’s many festivals.
Dr. Castillero added that this movement of patients from abroad or other provinces began about 10 years ago, when it was discovered that this region offers the same level of facilities, preparation and specialized equipment as the capital city.
The services most sought after by health tourists coming to Chitre are dental care, orthopedics (joint replacement), ophthalmology, ob/gyn and general surgery.
Chitre’s physicians are preparing to serve the increasing number of patients who come to the city as health tourists. They even talk about the possibility of organizing and promoting Herrera’s medical services abroad and in other provinces. But this will require a concentrated effort and large investments, and has yet to become a reality.
In the capital city, there are promotional businesses that offer health tourism packages. In Chitre, promotion has not yet begun, but travel agencies already see it as a great opportunity. July Ann Thomas, Marketing Manager of Panama Best Travel Agency, is optimistic in this regard, and believes that attractive packages can be put together to offer these services in the Azuero region.