Guest Post by Kathryn Aragon
The idea of traveling to a foreign country for medical care — known as medical tourism — may seem extreme or even unnecessary. But in some cases, it’s your best option.
For me, it was a spinal cord injury that prompted the trip to Panama.
My condition isn’t treated in the US. Fortunately, Panama’s Stem Cell Institute (SCI) is a world-class facility with skilled, caring doctors who know their stuff.
Looking back on the experience, I can highly recommend medical tourism in Panama if the need arises. Here’s how it went for me…
No treatment in your home country? No problem!
Technology has made the world a smaller place, and when it comes to medical care, that’s good news. You have a lot more options than you may realize for securing the medical care you need, even if it isn’t available locally.
I found SCI on the internet and, through email and phone conversations, gathered all the information I needed.
Not only did they answer my questions, they walked me through the application process and connected me with a concierge who helped me find an apartment that met my needs based on my disability.
Transportation wasn’t a worry either. An SCI representative met me at the airport and walked me through customs. I was then assigned a driver who took me to all my appointments during my stay.
For seeing the sights, taxis are inexpensive and plentiful, and for one weekend, we rented a car at a reasonable rate.
High quality care at a fraction of the cost
If you think medical care outside the US is of dubious quality, think again. Most of my doctors trained in the US and speak English, and the facilities are on par with the best in the US.
What impressed me most, though, was something that’s been missing from US clinics for years.
Back home, doctors are afraid of malpractice accusations, so they find a routine level of care that’s safe. They don’t step outside the box to give personalized care, because it leaves them exposed. And they avoid answering questions in case they say something that leaves them liable.
In Panama, not only were all my questions answered, I was able to talk frankly about what might be necessary in the future, which helped me know what to expect during and after treatment. Best of all, my case was treated individually, as distinct from every other patient.
Is all medical care that good? We tested that as well. During our stay, my husband cut his hand badly enough to need stitches.
His treatment was as good as mine, and certainly beat the local emergency room where we live. The bill was a fourth of what it would be at home, and it was paid in full by the one-month medical emergency coverage provided free by the Tourism Authority of Panama.
One of the surprising benefits of medical tourism is the connections you develop. In the clinic and at physical therapy, the patients swap stories and encourage one another. We celebrate one another’s victories and help one another through the bad days.
I met people from several states in the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Macedonia and Poland. Many of us have connected through Facebook and stay in touch even after returning home. It’s a network I’d have never found if I hadn’t taken the medical tourism route.
The Panamanian experience
The native language in Panama is Spanish, and though many people can speak some English, it helps to know the language. If that’s not you, take a Spanish-English dictionary.
We enjoyed getting to know the people, who radiate a charming warmth. As my treatment progressed and I began to hobble around without my walker, the doormen at our apartment would give me a thumbs-up to show their approval. My driver would cheer, pumping his fists and calling me mi campiona, his champion.
I celebrated my progress by getting my first haircut since my injury. After I told the stylist my story, she turned the event into a party. There’s a good chance we’re BFFs now. Already we’ve exchanged a few emails.
Our apartment was a few blocks from the bay at Punta Pacifica, high enough to give us a view of the ships lining up for the Panama Canal. I loved watching the moods of the sea. On hazy days, it looked like ghost ships were hanging suspended from the clouds, guarding us from who knows what danger.
We were walking distance to a handful of restaurants. But we especially enjoyed the fresh produce at the Jewish markets in the neighborhood. Always adventurous, we looked for Panamanian food, but had to settle for Lebanese, Greek, American, Italian and Japanese.
Staying connected with family and friends back home was easy. We had wi-fi in our apartment, the clinic and at physical therapy. My husband was able to connect to his office computer and work remotely. My clients never knew I was gone. I simply told them to email rather than call. It worked so well, I got a new client while there.
Before leaving, we downloaded an app, TextPlus, that has free international texting, but we found Facebook and Skype to be the easiest ways to communicate.
As for entertainment, you’ll find malls, tourist traps, and let’s not forget, the Panama Canal.
Would I do it again?
In a heartbeat.
We met several expats who retired to Panama because of the lower cost of living and the exceptional medical care. They raved about the experience.
I couldn’t help but agree, and the seed was planted for me to return someday, even if I don’t need medical care.
Kathryn Aragon is an award-winning copywriter specializing in integrated internet marketing.She is the creator of Social Content and the C4 Marketing Method, as well as publisher of the C4 Report, the only weekly newsletter dedicated to helping marketers communicate, connect, convert, and capture their market. Kathryn is an avid reader and, yes, writes just for the fun of it. She also enjoys doing volunteer work and goofing off with her kids.