The Case for Medical Tourism
The growing practice of traveling abroad for medical treatment isn’t a novel concept. People in the Ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean used to travel to remote places seeking spas and sanatoriums built on remote lands where healing mineral springs were abundant. Medical tourism also took place in Europe during the Renaissance, usually to communities where medical education and research centers where located.
Patients from the United States
The reasons why patients these days are embarking on trips to foreign countries for medical care are varied. In the case of medical tourists from the United States, the exorbitant cost of health care is the primary motivating factor. Medical insurance in the United States can be restrictive in the sense that even insurance plans with high premiums sometimes do not cover certain procedures such as cosmetic surgery and orthopedics. High deductibles can also become financial obstacles for patients to get the medical care they really need, a situation often seen among those who are considered under-insured.
Patients from Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe
In the case of patients from Canada and other countries where government-subsidized medical care is the norm, they frequently experience difficulty in terms of the availability and eligibility of certain procedures. Excessive waiting times can also exacerbate existing medical conditions. In developed nations where socialized medicine is practiced, private health options are usually out of the economic reach of most patients.
In the same countries cited above, elective and cosmetic procedures are not covered by medical insurance plans. They aren’t performed by public health systems, either. Private practitioners who set out to perform such procedures are keenly aware of the demand created by the restrictions against them, and to this extent they mark up the prices of the procedures accordingly.
Yet another reason behind the increased growth of medical tourism is the need for privacy and relaxation during a period of treatment or convalescence. Patients who set out on medical tourism vacations seek more than just quality and affordable health care; they also look for confidentiality and trust, as well as careful attention and the proper ambiance for healing and recovery.
Costa Rica as a Prime Destination for Medical Tourists
The Switzerland of Central America has been gaining a lot of attention as the favorite site for medical tourism. There are several reasons why Costa Rica is the best destination for medical tourists, particularly North American travelers.
The most important reason is intent. Costa Rica wishes to be known as country where people visit to get better. The national tourism board (known by the Spanish acronym ICT) is a prominent government agency that is fully supportive of health tourism initiatives. The country is already known around the world for its commitment to peace, democracy and eco-friendly tourism. The government has embraced the opportunity to establish the country as a welcoming destination for tourists seeking quality medical care. Simply put, medical tourism is a matter of national interest and pride in Costa Rica.
The Existing Health Care System
Ticos (the colloquial term for Costa Rican citizens) enjoy free public health care subsidized by the government. They also have a wide range of private health care options. In the last few years, Ticos have been increasingly exploring the private medical care options available to them due to their quality and affordability. There are over 20 public health hospitals and dozens of primary care clinics in the public health system, and when it comes to emergency situations, these health facilities offer free care to local residents and tourists alike.
The growing private health care system in the country counts with six major hospital and hundreds of private medical practices. The lack of a military has allowed Costa Rica to invest in education, and to that extent thousands of health care professionals graduate each year from the numerous universities in the country. Business analysts predict that private health care and medical tourism will be the national industries with the most growth in years to come.
Quality Health Care
In the year 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the health care system in Costa Rica higher than the United States in terms of access, engagement and quality. The Joint Commission International (JCI), a special interest organization dedicated to the evaluation and accreditation of medical treatment facilities according to the highest of WHO standards, has certified three hospitals in Costa Rica: CIMA Hospital in the capital city of San José, Clínica Bíblica in a suburb of the capital, and a brand new CIMA facility in the heart of Guanacaste, a region that is very popular among tourists.
Health care in Costa Rica has greatly improved over the last few years thanks to the nation’s interest in advancing scientific education throughout its academic institutions. As a result, Costa Rica has become a hub for health sciences research and the manufacturing of biomedical equipment.
The medical tourism industry has set the bar very high for professionals looking to work with foreign patients. They are required to speak English and exercise the most attentive bedside manners. Employees working in the medical tourism field are well-aware of their status as ambassadors within their own country.
The Best Choice for Medical Tourism
Costa Rica has two main airports (SJO and LIR) that are conveniently located a short flight away from major international hubs such as Houston, Los Angeles and Miami. Many airlines offer daily flights to Costa Rica, so it’s easy to schedule flights and find special discounts on fares.
Flying into Costa Rica is a simple and pleasant affair. Both airports are used to the high influx of tourists, and thus immigration and customs can be easily cleared. Ground transportation from the airport to any of the JCI accredited hospitals is easy to arrange, as all hospitals are located just minutes away from the airports. Lodging options are also abundant, inexpensive and very close to the hospitals.
Patients who fly in for a surgical procedure have a wide range of recovery options available. Costa Rica is blessed with some of the most temperate weather in the world, and visiting its many natural attractions can be a healing exercise unto itself.
While the focus of medical tourism is on treating a condition or getting a procedure done, patients should not leave Costa Rica without exploring its many wonders. In Costa Rica many patients have found that a nature hike, a volcano tour, a visit to a relaxing beach, a surfing session, or a zip line and canopy adventure was just what the doctor ordered.