Interview: Francisco Javier Terrientes Mojica
What areas of public health care are you prioritising? What role can the private sector play?
FRANCISCO JAVIER TERRIENTES: The main priority should be to significantly change medical attention so as to ultimately improve the quality of the public health care system. There is a consensus among stakeholders that the public health care system is undergoing a deep crisis that needs to be turned around. In order to achieve this, a dialogue group has been created to give stakeholders a platform to discuss and determine the sector’s most fundamental needs.
The truth is that all actors involved want the same thing: to improve medical care in Panama. The private sector has an important role to play. The involvement of professionals from the private and public sectors is being promoted through incentives. As the public health care industry makes improvements, the private sector will need to equally enhance the quality of its service in order to compete.
How can the shortage of medical professionals in the health care system be addressed?
TERRIENTES: Panama has a law in place that regulates the entry of foreign medical professionals. However, the details of this law have yet to be revealed, which means that for the time being, foreign professionals cannot be hired in the country’s medical sector. To face this challenge, the Ministry of Health and the Social Insurance Fund are trying to find a more effective way of redistributing human resources, in order to compensate for the sector’s human capital needs. Moreover, the government has developed a new human resources programme. For the first time since 1972, the number of students entering medical courses in public universities will be doubled. There are also scholarships to train specialist and sub-specialist doctors abroad.
Finally, a new programme was established that will give 73 medical students the opportunity to complete their studies in English in Panama. This new programme is expected to give them access to more technology, as well as the latest research material that is not translated into Spanish. This will better prepare students for careers in the medical field.
What are the challenges facing the Hospital City project? What changes can be expected?
TERRIENTES: Though the hospital city project is attractive, some weaknesses have been identified. First, it is not easily accessible to patients. This is extremely important for proper emergency care. Studies carried out by the Social Insurance Fund have also noted that the hospital city project is over-sized. The development will continue, but with some adjustments. These include the addition of medical areas that were not part of the initial plans, in order to make better use of the existing space. This will undoubtedly affect the costs of the project. However, how much of an impact this will have on the budget has yet to be determined.
What is being done to improve access to health care for the Panamanian public?
TERRIENTES: There are currently too many inequalities that need to be balanced. The reality is that access to health care services is largely dependent on geographical location, and this needs to end. Rural areas are particularly affected by the lack of infrastructure, medical personnel and general delays in medical attention. The government has to be able to guarantee that all Panamanians have the same level of access to the same quality of health coverage and the same opportunity to receive medical attention, even those who do not have a health plan with the Social Security Fund. In order to improve health care services, the number of hours that medical professionals work has been extended. Furthermore, to service remote areas or areas with fewer resources, where delays are more common, a system of remote phone assistance has also been put into place.
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