No longer a sleepy destination for cost-conscious American expats seeking dental care, Costa Rica’s two JCI-accredited hospitals and numerous smaller, private AAAASF- and AAAHC-accredited clinics offer a wide range of medical services, including orthopedics, cardiology, cancer treatments, cosmetic surgery, and bariatrics. Idyllic scenery and unique “recovery lodges” make Costa Rica a prime destination for the medical traveler.
With its comparative wealth as a Central American nation, emphasis on ecotourism, and long history of relative political tranquility, Costa Rica, Spanish for “rich coast,” can hardly be labeled a third-world country. Few tourist destinations offer such easy access to leisure activities.
Breathtaking national parks of volcanoes and cloud forests are less than an hour’s drive from the capital, San Jose; and both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts are easily accessible, with plenty of local and westernized accommodations. With so many Americans vacationing in, traveling to, or buying real estate in Costa Rica, many “Ticans” wonder if their country won’t soon become the US’s fifty-first state.
Costa Rica Healthcare and Medical Tourism
The World Health Organization has ranked Costa Rica as one of the top three healthcare systems in Latin America, and the nation consistently ranks higher in healthcare than many of its industrialized counterparts including Canada and the United States. Similarly, life expectancy is among the world’s highest (78.7 years, one year higher than the US).
Health travel is huge as well. In 2011, the country welcomed some 48,000 medical and health travelers, mostly from the US, Canada, and the EU. Neighboring countries such as Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras also seek out Costa Rica for access to higher-quality medical services. Some five percent of Costa Rica’s international tourists visit this small, lush country to take advantage of its medical services, mostly cosmetic surgery and dental care.
For those planning minimally invasive procedures, Costa Rica’s proximity to the US and reputation as a tourist destination offer the best of both worlds. In fact, Costa Rica is one of the top five countries most visited by Americans seeking medical treatment.
Costa Rica boasts hundreds of board-certified physicians, surgeons, and dentists, mostly practicing in or near San Jose. Capitalizing on Costa Rica’s success in cosmetic surgery and dentistry, the country’s international medical offerings have expanded in recent years to include eye surgery and other elective procedures, such as bariatric surgery (for weight loss) and orthopedics. In addition, Costa Rica has launched research and clinical initiatives for Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, pain management, and diabetes.
Three hospitals—CIMA San Jose, Clinica Catolica, and Clinica Bíblica—have recently undergone extensive expansion and modernization to attract a broader mix of international patients. Clinica Biblica was the first in the country to achieve JCI accreditation. American-owned Hospital CIMA in San Jose achieved JCI status in 2008. Both are full-service hospitals offering patients a wide array of specialties and procedures previously unavailable to the medical traveler.
While Costa Rica enjoys a reputation for cosmetic surgery, many of the country's noted surgeons do not have their own facilities, but rather practice in one of the respected private hospitals, such as Catolica, Bíblica or CIMA. For patients who prefer the comparative intimacies of a clinic, the less cozy hospital setting may be off-putting.
"Recovery Resorts" a Unique Feature
One of Costa Rica’s health travel specialties is the “recovery retreat,” a hotel or ranch-style accommodation that serves recovering patients exclusively. Situated close to clinics, these retreats have all the amenities of a typical hotel, but they are staffed with nurses and interns who attend to the special needs of recovering patients.
Transportation to and from the airport is usually included with the cost, as is transport to clinics for consultation and treatment. Guests in these retreats chat at breakfast and dinner about their latest treatment, and a snapshot of the clientele at any point in time is usually a portrait of recovery’s progress—from the bruises of yesterday’s facelift procedure to the confident smile and gait of the patient heading home.
International patients will be pleased to learn that Costa Rica’s hospital and clinic websites are increasingly in English, and patient services are improving. Don’t expect large-scale grandeur: Costa Rica's hospitals are generally small compared to the top international hospitals in India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. However, health travelers to Costa Rica can find excellent services in some of the smaller, private facilities located in San Jose and its Americanized suburb, Escazú.
Last updated on 18 August 2014