The term coined for traveling outside your home country to obtain health care is medical tourism. The primary motivation of such travelers is to take advantage of lower medical costs with an equal or at least acceptable level of care compared to their home country. in some cases, foreign countries may have treatments that are not offered in the home country because they are too new or don’t have approval by government bodies or by one’s insurance carrier. also, there may be coverage for a procedure, but there is an unacceptable waiting period.
Whatever the reasons, medical tourism is big business around the world. There are at least 50 countries that try to draw in patients from other countries, including Costa Rica, and large organizations such as the World Medical Tourism Congress hold annual conventions with thousands of attendees. There is at least one magazine, Medical Tourism, devoted to the subject. right now in San Jose there is a large conference, Medical Travel Business Summit, whose goal is to make it even easier for those seeking medical care here to take advantage of the offerings in a coordinated way.
Popular procedures sought include orthopedic surgery (e.g. knee or hip replacement), cardiac surgery (e.g. bypass), reproductive assistance (e.g. in-vitro fertilization), plastic surgery, and high-cost dental treatments such as crowns, bridges, and implants. More recently drug and alcohol detox services are becoming popular along with wellness therapy, represented for example by yoga or massage retreats located in jungles or near hot springs.
Knowing what private dental care costs here in Costa Rica I often tell potential visitors who are concerned about the high cost of air travel that getting something like a new bridge or dental veneers here (usually not fully covered by insurance) will probably more than pay for the plane ticket. The dentists here are more than competent and usually have the latest dental technology.
Coincident with that conference in San Jose this week, premier newspaper La Nacion, printed an article about what Costa Rica, already well-known for its inexpensive and quality care, is doing or could be doing to increase its appeal as a top medical tourism destination. though there are companies (e.g. Costa Rica Medical Care ), that help facilitate visits, the level and coordination of all services required (such as travel agents, medical laboratories, housing, transport within the country, and of course the clinics and hospitals) can be uneven. since there is intense competition for the billions of dollars spent annually by medical tourists (the industry employs about 20,000 in Costa Rica), it behooves the providers and facilitators to get their acts together to make it an experience as seamless as possible.
Also, critically important, is that seekers of medical services feel confidence in the level of services and infrastructure provided. just because procedures in Costa Rica average 30% to 70% lower that in the States, naysayers often unthinkingly criticize the concept with you get what you pay for. thus, accreditation is vital and usually provided for by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Organizations (JCI), a U.S.-based non-profit. Currently, Costa Rica has three JCI accredited hospitals in San Jose.
Medical tourism is not without risks, of course. Most importantly, laws that give a patient who feels that he or she was the victim of malpractice differ greatly from one country to another. even if the laws are solid the actual legal process may be too onerous for one to complete in a reasonable time.
For those who have concerns I think the best suggestion (as with other research on Costa Rica) is to come and give it a try. start small, say, by visiting a recommended dentist for a procedure for which your insurance doesn’t pay for or fully cover (I can recommend two without reservation here in Perez Zeledon and see if the experience is something to which you could adjust. Meanwhile, make sure to take some time for wellness therapy by taking advantage of the scenery, climate, and good-natured folks here in the Tropics.