As people think about living in another country, some of the first questions people ask are . . .
“What about medical care abroad?”
“Will I be able to have the care, latest modalities, medications, etc., that I need?”
And if you are interested specifically in Costa Rica, you may ask . . .
“Can I trust medical care in Costa Rica?”
I hope my medical care experiences in Costa Rica might be of help. Of course, medical care always depends on the specific doctor, hospital, and staff that you encounter, as well as how each person’s body responds. In this blog post, I am sharing about three surgeries I have had in Costa Rica. All the surgeries were performed by private doctors at private hospitals. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions by the end of this blog entry.
The first surgery was for carpal tunnel in 1994. It was was performed by our family physician, Dr. Perez, at Hospital Clinica Biblica. At that time, Clinica Biblica was recognized as the leading private hospital in the country, It was well-equipped, well-staffed, and was widely recognized as the best place to have medical procedures.
My carpal tunnel surgery on the right hand was performed in a small operating room, and I was able to talk with the doctor throughout the procedure. I do not remember the cost, except that it was surprisingly much lower than costs in the United States. But the care and attention and professionalism was top notch. Dr. Perez was amazing, not only performing the surgery flawlessly, but his post surgery attention was thorough and caring. He called me several times to check on my recovery, in addition to the usual post-op appointments. Today, Hospital Clinica Biblica is still regarded as one of the top two private hospitals in the country.
The second surgery was in 2002. It was lung surgery, and it was performed at the brand new hospital in Escazu – called CIMA. It was state of the art in 2002, and I had an amazing experience. The professionalism was tops. At the same time, the doctors and nurses maintained that Costa Rican quality of very personal care that we have come to love so much about Costa Rican medicine: plenty of time for each patient, follow-up phone calls, even home visits sometimes. The cost of the surgery was 25% of the average for the same surgery in the United States at that time. CIMA is associated with Baylor University Medical School and is considered the top private hospital in the country today.
People in the U.S. have asked me – “Weren’t you afraid to have a major medical procedure outside the United States?” Answer: Absolutely not. We Americans have been brainwashed to believe that medical care in the U.S. is better than everywhere else. It simply isn’t true. And the costs in other countries are much more reasonable and affordable. And, frankly, the personal attention and lack of insurance-driven pressures make medical care in other countries much more patient-friendly.
In a study reported by CNN in August of 2021, the United States ranked last among the high-income nations of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK in terms of the following factors: access to care, health care outcomes, administrative efficiency, equity and care process, which includes preventative care, patient engagement and other metrics. (https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/04/health/us-health-care-rankings/index.html)
I love my home country of the United States, but it has some huge problems when it comes to accessibility and quality health care for all its citizens.
I had carpal tunnel surgery again in October of 2022, this time on the left hand. Now, I am left-handed, so this was more of a challenge as far as every day chores, but I managed just fine. The surgery was performed by a plastic surgeon in San Jose. Dr. Vargas was absolutely top-notch in everything. He was professional, thorough, knowledgeable, up on the latest techniques, and he communicated with me better than any doctor I’ve ever had. The surgery was performed at Metropolitano Hospital in the San Jose suburb of Lindora. The nurses and staff were amazing. I never felt uneasy or afraid. The medical care was extraordinary. The facilities were modern, spotlessly clean, with all the latest technology and equipment.
The cost was once again about 25% of the usual cost of carpal tunnel surgery in the United States. Dr. Vargas contacted me every day for the first eight days after surgery to check on me. He even called me on the phone one day while we were driving. We pulled over to the side of the road to complete the call.
Costa Rica is known for its medical care, especially for it public health care system. We have not yet used the public health system as we just recently became permanent residents. So far, we’ve gone with private providers. And every experience has been excellent.
It is so refreshing to know that you can walk in off the street to a doctor’s office and be seen within a few minutes. Or, you can make an appointment with a specialist without having to go to your regular doctor first for a referral. You can also walk into the local pharmacy and be seen by the pharmacy doctor or nurse for minor ailments.
The private sector is just such a user-friendly system in general.
Costa Ricans believe that everyone should have the right to medical care, whether it be public or private. It doesn’t depend on your ability to buy insurance. It’s nice to be a part of a society that wants the best for everyone.
I hope I don’t need surgery again, but if I do, I won’t hesitate to have it done in Costa Rica. There are thousands each year who come here from around the world to have medical care because of the quality and lower cost.
One day I was walking past the bus ticket booth in our neighborhood, and I noticed an American couple struggling to buy tickets because of the language barrier. I stepped up and asked if I could be of help with communicating in Spanish with the ticket sales person. I helped them buy tickets to San Jose for a couple of weeks later. I casually asked them about their trip to Costa Rica. They eagerly told me that they had just spent a week in San Jose where both of them had extensive, outstanding dental work done. They also told me that their entire trip – airfare, lodging, food, etc., including two more weeks at a hotel on the beach, were paid for with the money they saved by having their dental work done in Costa Rica.
Excellent quality medical care is not limited to the United States or Europe. It can be found all over the world, and I, for one, am grateful for the type of care I can get in Costa Rica.
In my upcoming book, When Faraway is Home: A Family’s Overseas Adventures Living in Three Countries, there is a section on our family’s medical experiences in Costa Rica. Stay tuned for the announcement of the book’s release.
Until next time . . .
This is Paul, A Part-Time Expat turned Full-Time
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