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By Juan Carlos Martinez
The medical tourism industry is in growth mode everywhere, however in Panama it is still in its infancy. The activity generates approximately $60 billion per year worldwide and within three years is expected to reach $100 billion. Statistics indicate that Latin America receives 25% of the $60 billion dollar pie as confirmed by Mr. Ruben Berrocal, the General Secretary of the National Secretariat for Science and Technology. Of the 25% Costa Rica has a 16% share while Panama currently has 1% of the total. Mr. Berrocal optimistically estimates that within five years Panama could corner 12% of the market, being Americans and Canadians the main customers for surgery or medical treatments.

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Panama City's main hospitals are Centro Médico Paitilla, Clínica Hospital San Fernando, Hospital Nacional and Hospital Punta Pacífica. All of these have reported an increase in foreign patients coming in for procedures or for medical attention although only Hospital Punta Pacífica has a department devoted entirely to creating special packages for tourists who come for medical reasons but also want to do a bit of sightseeing.

The Hospital Punta Pacífica, the hospital pioneering medical tourism in Panama with a marketing department solely devoted to packages for medical tourists, says that tourists account for maybe 20% of their patients. They mostly come in for treatment of cardiovascular diseases, orthopedics as well as infertility problems. Clínica Hospital San Fernando says that they receive on average five foreigners a day. Most of them go for routine medical attention although they do have a number of foreigners requesting knee replacement surgery, plastic surgery and obesity procedures. They further indicate that 5% of their patients have international insurance or are foreigners who live in Panama. Hospital Nacional indicates that currently in their International Accounts Department they have 7,875 patients registered from January 2009 to June 30, 2010. Centro Médico Paitilla confirms that most foreigners that seek medical attention are looking for orthopedic specialties.

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