Skip main navigation

An introduction to the healthcare system in the Philippines

Understand the healthcare system in the Philippines, including PhilHealth, private healthcare, healthcare issues and more.

Healthcare in Philippines

In general, the healthcare system in the Philippines is of a high quality. Medical staff in the Philippines are highly qualified, though the facilities they work with are of a poorer quality than those in high-end US or European healthcare institutions.

Although the Philippines’ state-funded public healthcare is overall of a good standard, it differs greatly across rural and urban locations. In the Philippines, private healthcare is more consistent; private facilities generally have better equipment than public ones. Because English is widely spoken in the Philippines, there should be minimal linguistic hurdles to receiving healthcare for expats.

In this post, we’ll give an overview of both the private and public healthcare systems in the Philippines and summarise the best healthcare jobs in the country. 

An overview of the Philippines healthcare system

Although public hospital staff are highly skilled, public healthcare in the Philippines still has significant geographical disparities. The Philippines’ public healthcare system is outstanding in metropolitan areas yet inadequate in rural areas. 

An enormous number of Filipinos rely on public healthcare. Yet, there is a trend for Filipino medical staff to emigrate to Western countries, which puts the system under strain. As a result, certain hospitals are understaffed, and patients may see a delay in treatment.

Philhealth, a government-owned company, oversees public healthcare in the Philippines. Although Philhealth covers some medical treatments and expenses, such as inpatient care and non-emergency procedures, it does not cover all medical treatments and costs.

For foreigners working in the Philippines, enrolling in Philhealth is a must. Employers, employee salaries, and the state all contribute to Philhealth. Expats can enrol in Philhealth if they are legally residents in the Philippines.

Despite the healthcare issues in the Philippines, the system is steadily improving. This is due to government measures that are bringing the country closer to a universal system. As a result, PhilHealth provides free medical treatment to all Filipino citizens. With the passage of the Universal Healthcare Act in early 2019, PhilHealth expanded its coverage to include consultations and lab tests. In addition, all Filipino citizens will automatically be registered in the national programme.

What are Health Management Organisations (HMOs)?

The private and public healthcare sectors are linked throughout the country. Health Management Organizations, or HMOs, provide a wide range of services. HMOs are similar to private healthcare providers. 

Patients are assigned to certain providers within a network that is based on a system of reimbursement. Most Filipino employees are enrolled in an HMO as part of their employer’s benefits package. HMOs and PhilHealth are complementary systems, with HMOs covering costs not covered by the PhilHealth plan.

How healthcare in the Philippines is funded

The Philippines established the PhilHealth programme in 1995 with the goal of providing universal coverage at an affordable price. PhilHealth is a government-run and-funded organisation. It is funded by municipal and national government subsidies, as well as company and employee contributions. In addition, the programme provides a variety of medical plans based on income, age, and condition.

An overview of Philhealth membership options

The six PhilHealth membership categories are:

  • Sponsored Members People subsidised by local government.
  • Indigents Those without income (or with very low income) fall into this category.
  • Lifetime Members Retirees and pensioners above the age of 60 who have paid premiums for at least 120 months. These members do not need to pay.
  • Senior Citizens Some people above the age of 60 are eligible for free PhilHealth coverage. This, however, is not the same as being a lifetime member. It applies to seniors who are not currently covered by any of PhilHealth’s existing membership categories.
  • Formal Sector Employees of both public and private businesses.
  • Informal Economy Self-employed individuals, migratory labourers, and those who do not easily fit into the Formal Sector. This is a popular choice among expats.

Differences between private and public healthcare in the Philippines

In the Philippines, as in most other nations, private treatment provides several additional benefits to patients. Newer, cleaner and more comfortable facilities are available. Staff are multilingual and wait times are less. 

However, you do not have to go to a private hospital to see an English-speaking doctor as almost all doctors and nurses are fluent in English. Many Filipino medical professionals work in English-speaking countries abroad.

The Philippines’ healthcare system relies heavily on private providers. About 30% of the Philippine population uses the private healthcare system as their main source of care. Most hospitals – almost 60% – are also privately owned. Furthermore, medical tourism is an important part of the economy, which explains why there are so many private hospitals and speciality clinics.

Many public hospitals, particularly those in large cities, provide excellent care and diagnostic services. However, this does not apply to all public facilities. If you choose public health care, a local friend or coworker can advise you on which hospitals and clinics provide the best care.

What are the requirements for PhilHealth?

The main requirement for PhilHealth is that you need to be a legal resident of the Philippines – this includes foreign residents. The Informal Economy membership group is the best fit for most foreigners. The annual fees are often less than $100. Foreigners who are married to a Philippine national can also be covered as dependents.

Tourists and other short-term visitors, on the other hand, are not covered by PhilHealth. They must have their own travel insurance to cover medical costs.

Health options for expats and tourists in the Philippines

Expats who want to sign up for healthcare in the Philippines should contact PhilHealth first. For people in the Formal Sector and Informal Economy groups, there is a convenient online registration process. 

Foreign citizens should also register with their local health providers ahead of time. The types of hospitals and doctors to which you will have access will be limited. Many private health care providers, especially for foreign nationals, will have significant wait times or restricted availability.

Although the government-run PhilHealth system is available to all residents of the Philippines, you may wish to supplement it with a commercial worldwide medical plan. As previously stated, the private plan will be much more accessible than the public plan, as there will be far more private hospitals than public hospitals. 

You’ll have a shorter wait for treatment and better access to health services. Private health insurance policies also give you the freedom to seek treatment anywhere in the world, including in your own country.

In the Philippines, private healthcare is well-established and growing. Although doctors at  public hospitals are just as good as those in private hospitals, private institutions are far better equipped and treatment is usually faster. 

Locals consider private services expensive, but most expats will find them cheap. The Philippines’ growing appeal as a medical tourism destination is linked to the relative affordability of private treatment.

Tourists should consult their doctor at least six weeks before their trip to the Philippines to verify that they are up to date on their vaccinations. In the Philippines, mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and the chikungunya virus pose a health risk despite low infection rates. Preventative techniques, such as sleeping under a mosquito net and wearing insect repellent, are the best ways to avoid them.

Healthcare issues in the Philippines

The Philippine healthcare system faces significant issues – here are some of the biggest.

Brain drain

“Brain drain” – the exodus of highly qualified people from a country – is a severe concern for the Philippines’ healthcare system. Many talented Filipino doctors find work in other countries, leaving the medical industry understaffed. 

There is only one physician for every 33,000 people in the country, which is much lower than in other countries. Furthermore, the issue does not only affect doctors. From dentists to midwives, the average practitioner-to-patient ratio is poor and shows no sign of improvement. Recent legislation, however, has made provisions for medical students to receive funding to begin their careers in their home country.

Shortcomings in addiction treatment and care

The fight against illegal narcotics is ruthless – thousands of people accused of drug trafficking have been killed on the spot. In addition, anyone caught using illegal narcotics faces lengthy prison sentences. 

Many users have voluntarily surrendered due to their fear of death from street violence and police interactions. Where people can access them, government-run rehabilitation facilities provide a safe haven from police brutality and “street justice” – but most are overburdened. 

Overworked physicians are no longer able to provide one-on-one therapy to addicts. Activists also argue that the root causes of addiction, such as hunger and poverty, are not being addressed. For expats and Filipinos with sufficient financial resources, obtaining treatment abroad may be the only option.

Slow emergency response

The quality of ambulance services varies substantially across the Philippines – a problem exacerbated by a lack of legislation around the functioning of emergency services. As a result, emergency services are often slow to react and pre-hospital care may be inadequate. 

Private ambulances typically have more experienced personnel and better equipment, as well as faster response times. Monthly payments for private ambulance services are common or form part of a general medical insurance package. Ambulance services are available at several private hospitals.

The best healthcare jobs in the Philippines

Working in the Philippine healthcare system will, by and large, provide you with stable and satisfactory employment. These are some of the best healthcare jobs in the Philippines, along with their salaries.*

*salary information from bukas.ph

Physician

Average salary: PHP 483,500/year

Physicians are among the highest-paid workers in the healthcare industry. It is your responsibility as a physician to diagnose and treat your patients, as well as take their medical histories and prescribe medication.

Nurse

Average salary: PHP 163,055/year

Nursing is a highly sought-after skill, both in the Philippines and internationally. The Philippines is one of the largest suppliers of nurses in the world, accounting for around 25% of all international nurses. Nursing is one of the most diverse careers in the medical field, whether you wish to work in hospitals or clinics, or help those in need as a health aide.

Medical Technologist

Average salary: PHP 178,458/year

Medical technologists typically work in a laboratory, performing tests such as urine and blood analysis. They will also supply data that needs to be analysed. However, you must first obtain a BSc in Medical Technology and pass the Medical Technologist Licensure Examination.

Pharmacist

Average salary: PHP 237,000/year

Pharmacists’ key responsibilities include dispensing prescription medications to patients and providing expert advice on how to appropriately administer the medication while minimising side effects. To become a Registered Pharmacist, you must first complete a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy programme and then pass the Pharmacy Licensure Exam.

Healthcare Data Management Specialist

Average salary: PHP 325,000/year

If you enjoy clerical and administrative activities such as document preparation and filing, this may be the job for you. Healthcare Data Management Specialists are in charge of maintaining databases and producing healthcare reports. They also do data analysis and validation to verify that the systems in place are working properly.

Healthcare Customer Care Representative

Average salary: PHP 205,659/year

Healthcare Customer Service Representatives assist customers with questions about insurance claims and programme coverages. They also help people place orders, resolve problems, and find information on products and services. You can work at call centres owned by or affiliated with health insurance carriers in this field – or, alternatively, work for the insurance company directly.

Final thoughts

Although the Philippine healthcare system has its issues, it is still of high quality by the standard of developing countries – particularly if you go to a private provider. Working in healthcare can be a satisfying and well-paid career.

If you’d like to learn more about healthcare and how to work in this field, check out FutureLearn’s range of healthcare courses. You’ll find learning opportunities from world-renowned institutions such as Taipei Medical University and the University of Glasgow.

FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education

Related stories on FutureLearn