Costa Rica, New El Dorado for Canadian Medical Tourists
Apr 12, 2011
The term medical tourism has often been greeted with a blank stare in Canada but it’s starting to change. With a universal healthcare system, the idea of traveling abroad for medical procedures has definitely been foreign and the term is just starting to gain hold in the vernacular.
There is a definite untapped market according to Mark Semple president of Passport Medical, one of the fastest growing Canadian medical tourism companies in the world.
“Canadian consumers are still looking for affordable, high quality options for elective procedures like cosmetic surgery and dental care.” Semple said. “Many also are looking to minimize the often lengthy wait times for non-elective procedures.”
Indeed, wait times can sometimes reach multiple years for certain procedures like orthopedics, affecting quality of life.
For Vicky Lee, a resident of Vancouver, the idea of traveling abroad for medical care first entered her consciousness when she came across the book “Beauty From Afar” by Jeff Schultz. She was immediately intrigued: as a competitive fitness contestant she was looking to undergo a few cosmetic procedures, as an artist and photographer she had an acute awareness of aesthetics and was ultimately looking for the very best ‘artists’ to perform her procedures.
“The idea of doing cosmetic surgery in Canada never even entered my mind,” Lee said. “I have a very open world view and I actually saw it as a challenge to travel for my procedures.”
Even further, she was going to do the trip alone. In the interest of fully educating herself she proceeded to read several books and contacted many companies providing medical tourism opportunities; she weighed each destination carefully and ultimately settled on Passport Medical to help her plan her medical vacation to Costa Rica.
“They were extremely thorough and answered all of my questions right away which put me totally at ease and comfortable with my decision.”
Costa Rica definitely has a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting the Canadian health consumer. It is held in high regard in the Canadian mindset. It is not hampered by negative stigmatisms which, rightly or wrongly, other destinations often have to overcome. It is seen as safe, welcoming, convenient and blessed of a highly educated and literate population. Not to mention, its healthcare system consistently ranks near The United States and Canada by many metrics, with three Joint Commission International accredited private hospitals in San Jose alone.
According to Bill Cook, the International Patient Coordinator at the JCI accredited Hospital Clinica Biblica in San Jose: Costa Rica’s healthcare is so good because over sixty years ago the government made a strategic decision to eliminate the army and put healthcare and education at the top of their agenda. In other words, money that would normally have gone to the military was, instead, used to create an enviable social healthcare system and build hospitals and schools. In fact, you could go back even further and argue that the socio-economic conditions that led to this historic act, eliminating the army, stem directly from the fact that Costa Rica has always had a large middle class which has tended to reduce social unrest, and has paved the way for a longstanding peaceful democracy.
It’s this kind of safe, stable environment that has driven tourism and development in Costa Rica in recent years and is now driving medical tourism, and Costa Rica’s proximity for North Americans certainly gives it an edge.
“In the end, Costa Rica was closer than other destinations I considered, and it’s a country famed for its cosmetic surgeons,” Lee said. “Mark from Passport Medical kept telling me about the level of care I would receive and he was right.” Lee ended up using Dr. Juan Poveda and Dr. Daniel Sancho who practice at the JCI accredited Hospital La Catolica. Dr. Poveda is the current vice-president of the Costa Rican Society of Plastic Surgery Reconstructive and Aesthetics.
According to Lee, from the moment she arrived at the airport to being met at the entrance of the hospital when she arrived by Ennia, everything was perfect: the international patient coordinator to the incredible attentiveness she received from the doctors. “I even had my doctor’s home telephone number in case I needed to reach him on the weekend, something that would be unthinkable in Canada,” Lee said.
Vicky even got to take advantage of the unique hotel Posada El Convento, a colonial-style hotel. Hospital La Catolica is one of the very few hospitals to have a full service hotel inside its walls which provides excellent comfort and additional peace of mind.
“As I was traveling alone, we thought it would be prudent to stay at the hospital and be able to take advantage of the extra care that would be afforded to me,” Lee said. “In the end, the results of my procedures far exceeded my expectations. Furthermore, I can say the trip really changed me, it was something outside the realm of normalcy, expanded my level of consciousness and increased my world view. I would recommend it to anyone, and I do.”
Passport Medical is currently sending over 70 patients per month to Costa Rica alone for various procedures including cosmetic surgery, fertility, dental and other specialty procedures. It works with a number of high quality Costa Rican providers.
According to Travis Kraft, CEO of Passport Medical, “we are always researching and helping develop unique and niche specialty procedures with our JCI accredited health partners in Costa Rica.”