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Medical Tourism

In a United Nations study conducted in the 1980s, Costa Rica's medical system was first in Latin America and ranked near the United States and Canada among the 20 best in the world. This status has been mantained pretty much to the present day.

Wealthier Costa Ricans most often make their medical/dental appointments with their private physicians and though currently over burdened, the national medical system (the Social Security--or Caja) is still not being accessed to its limit. Many physicians/dentists work part time for the national health system and also maintain private practices.

For example, a private office visit to almost any medical specialist costs around US$30-$50. Continued treatments for diagnosed problems will vary but will almost always be considerably less than comparable treatment in the United States. X-rays are a fraction of the cost. Dental work (such as simple fillings) run between $20 and $50. We recently compared costs for periodontal services in the States and here. For considerable work in the States, the patient was quoted $7,000; the same work performed in Costa Rica by a U.S/French-trained periodontist using the same materials and techniques, and was $1,500.

Most Costa Rican doctors and dentists receive their basic medical training in Costa Rica. From here, they travel far and wide seeking specialized training from the finest teaching hospitals in the world, often becoming certified in their specialities in the countries where they receive their advanced training. It is not uncommon to find a Costa Rican doctor or dentist speaking several languages, all learned while pursuing advanced degrees in foreign countries.

According to Dr. Soto (a Chief of Surgery at one of the main hospitals here and a premiere cardiac surgeon on a worldwide scale) a heart valve replacement done in the States will cost the patient (or the insurance carrier) over $50,000 for the surgery alone. The same surgery in Costa Rica (using the same valve, performed in a surgical theater equal to those found in the States, by doctors and nurses internationally trained and highly skilled) will cost around US$15,000, including pre- and post-operative care in pleasant surroundings.

Costa Rica has also become a first-choice destination for cosmetic surgeries of all types. A full range of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery is available here in several modern clinics. In addition, with the recent advent of contemporary laser technology, Costa Rica's plastic and cosmetic surgeons are able to provide world-class service in all areas. Procedures routinely offered by plastic surgeons in Costa Rica include total and partial face lifts or reconstruction; tummy tucks; breast reduction, augmentation, and reconstruction; liposuction; and liposculpture, electrolysis for the permanent depilation of unwanted hair; removal of acne scars and other skin irregularities; and many other procedures to counteract aging, or enhance beauty. This is not new and a very active medical tourism industry has appeared.

Again, the financial advantages are impressive. For example, a facelift, perhaps the most commonly performed procedure here, can cost from $6,000 to $12,000 in the United States. Comparable surgery in Costa Rica will cost between $3,000 and $4,000 including clinic stay, medicines, nursing care and the surgery. Most minor procedures are done on an ambulatory-care basis requiring no hospitalization. Major procedures, such as some breast surgeries and "tummy tucks," can require overnight hospitalizations with the cost of the room included the price.

Prices can run up to 60% (and sometimes a little more) less than the same procedure in the United States. Non-elective reconstructive surgery may even be covered to some extent by your medical insurance, and may result in additional coverage for you here. Therefore, you should investigate this possibility, as well, when taking cost into account.

Although procedures, equipment and meds are basically FDA-approved, always pay heed to the "buyer beware" caveat, and check into the credentials of whomever you are thinking of selecting to do the procedures. You can find about their background, professional accredidation, affiliations, and most often you can get references.

Exciting medical plans are now in the works for both Costa Rican and foreign patients. A new teaching hospital is to be built not five minutes from the Juan Santamaría International Airport. This hospital will be state of the art in every respect and should be open for business within the next two years. It will serve Costa Ricans and foreigners.

There are also several hotels and bed and breakfasts which specialize in being available to those recovering from surgical procedures, when care is needed but not hospitalization. These places most often are located close to the doctor/clinic where the patient is registered, and quite often even will provide transportation to and from follow-up appointments. Individual doctors should be able to provide you with recommendations for these accommodation, and/or we will be happy to research them for you to increase your comfort and convenience.


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