Health care is a rare and expensive commodity for Michigan residents. During 2004 to 2006, 14.8% of adults in Michigan lack health insurance coverage.1 Given the current economy, those figures are bound to be much higher today. Many of these individuals have significant health issues but they cannot gain access to the care they need because it is prohibitively expensive.
The practice of medical tourism is an option for these people who need care, but are unable to gain affordable access domestically. Countries around the world are promoting their high quality medical services to foreigners. Costa Rica is a leader in drawing Americans for medical care due to the quality of care, affordability, and range of available procedures. Costa Rica is also close in proximity for traveling Americans, and many appreciate the pure beauty of the country.
Costa Rica has one of the finest health care systems in the world, ranked higher than the US by the World Health Organization in its most recent assessment.2 The government heavily promotes affordable access to health care for all of its citizens. Costa Rica even boasts a higher life expectancy than the United States because of the quality care available.3
Private hospitals, such as Clinica Biblica and the Center for International Medicine Advanced, CIMA, cater to international patients. Both are located near San José and offer a full range of services to American patients. CIMA is affiliated with Baylor University in Texas and is considered a jewel of private healthcare in Latin America.4
Clinica Biblica has Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation, meaning the hospital adheres to strict regulations regarding the safety of its practices. The JCI is the international division of the Joint Commission, the American health care accreditation organization, and brings credibility to overseas providers by ensuring quality standards similar to those of top US hospitals. These and other international hospitals offer the highest quality of care with excellent success rates, all in facilities more closely resembling a resort than the typical image of a hospital.
Tourism is Costa Rica’s top industry with its desirable climate and idyllic landscapes making it a premier ecotourism destination. 150,000 people come to Costa Rica annually as medical tourists5 flying to and from capital city San José’s Juan Santamaria International Airport, SJO. Airfare to SJO is reasonably priced and relatively close to America compared to Eastern European and Asian medical travel locations.
Hospitals catering to international patients often offer transportation from the airport to the hospital among various other services. Many spas and resorts are available for post treatment recovery near hospitals, designed to cater to the needs of medical travelers. These hotels and spas are much less expensive than in America.
The major cities are vibrant with life and patients travelling for lighter procedures can take the opportunity to explore the city. Medical travelers can come to Costa Rica for treatment and combine it with a relaxing vacation and still save money compared to the cost required domestically of the procedure alone.
Americans come to Costa Rica for a wide variety of medical procedures. The cost for most procedures is roughly 40% to 70% less than in America.6 Dental treatments are one of many popular procedures. For example, bridge units cost $180 to $205 and surgical extractions are around $55 US Dollars.7 Plastic or cosmetic surgery is another popular treatment for medical tourists coming to Costa Rica.
The cost savings magnify when considering more major surgeries. A $130,000 heart bypass costs around $24,000 in Costa Rica and a $43,000 American hip replacement runs approximately $12,000.8 Similar savings can be experienced among countless other procedures: high standards of care with steeply discounted price tags.
Costa Rican medical tourism is a viable alternative to struggling with America’s broken health care system. Access to medical treatments is available regardless of insurance coverage. Hospitals are eager to offer their care to international patients and go to great lengths to ensure patient satisfaction. Approximately 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical care in 2007 and this number is expected to grow to six million by 2010.9
This explosive growth serves as a metric for the excellent services obtainable at international health care destinations. These individuals often travel to a destination as a result of searching the web or through referrals from prior travelers, paving the way for future medical tourists.
If you are interested in becoming a medical tourist, many hospitals have English websites to inform and educate international patients, including Clinica Biblica and CIMA. These and other websites are a great place to begin planning care abroad.
The Internet has been a great help to the growth of medical tourism by enabling care providers to connect with foreign patients and facilitating easy research through search engines. There is limited, but available literature on the topic for research. Patients Beyond Borders by Woodman is a great book to start research. He periodically releases new editions of his book specific to individual countries, such as Singapore, or procedure types, like orthopedic.
Also, medical travel agents serve as excellent resources for information as they offer a well-informed and unbiased reference for potential medical travelers. A medical travel agent can help with every aspect of the trip. They will have knowledge of a country’s premier hospitals and physicians, and can even help book airline tickets and find a place to stay during recovery. Many individuals like the security of having an American medical tourism professional to ensure every detail is in order before, during, and after their trip abroad.
3 Cook, Bill (2008). Costa Rica: From Ecotourism Leader to World Class Healthcare Provider (p. 22). Medical Travel Magazine
4 Schult (2006). Beauty From Afar (p. 145). New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, inc.
5 Bookman and Bookman (2007). Medical Tourism in Developing Countries (p. 3). New York, NY 10010. Palgrave Macmillan
6 Cook, Bill (2008). Costa Rica: From Ecotourism Leader to World Class Healthcare Provider (p. 20). Medical Travel Magazine
7 Woodman (2007). Patients Beyond Borders (p. 199). Chapel Hill, NC: Healthy Travel Media
8 Medical Tourism Association (2007). Costs of Surgeries in Costa Rica vs. United States (p. 27) Medical Travel Magazine
9 Heckley and Underwood (2008). Medical Tourism: Consumers in Search of Value. Washington, DC 20004 Deloitte Center for Health Solutions