Spurred by the growing trend of medical tourism, the private ClínicaBíblicaHospital in downtown San José is positioning itself as an option for lower-cost health care for foreign patients, and has launched a specialized international office. In addition to assisting patients through all their hospital procedures and recovery, the office helps with finding a hotel, renting a car and planning activities for their stay.
“We want to do everything – a VIP treatment,” said Brad Cook, the director of Clínica Biblica’s International Client Services.
Cook, who was born to U.S. missionary parents a few decades ago at Clínica Biblica, said the hospital has seen a rapid growth in foreign, mostly U.S. patients traveling to Costa Rica specifically for medical treatment.
The hospital is also being contacted regularly by foreign journalists curious about their services, and gets phone calls about once a week from specialized medical tourism travel agencies.
With soaring health-care costs and a large number of uninsured citizens, many people from the United States are looking abroad for low-cost, high-quality medical services offered by hospitals in places such as India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Costa Rica.
In the United States, the international outsourcing of health care has started to become institutionalized, as U.S. corporations are beginning to look into the prospect as a way to provide budget health care for their insured employees. According to an article in Time magazine, Blue Ridge Paper Products, a company in the state of North Carolina, sent representatives to India to look into hospital care there, and may offer employees cash benefits to get treatment abroad.
In West Virginia, a bill under study in the state legislature would encourage state employees to travel to other countries for their health care, provided they attend a center accredited by the International Joint Commission.
The International Joint Commission is the international arm of the Joint Commission, which accredits most U.S. hospitals.
Clínica Bíblica is “about 80%” through the International Joint Commission accreditation process, Cook said, and once approved, would be the first accredited hospital in Central America.
“This gives the patient a lot of security, and gives our services a lot of credibility,” said Lorena Morera, Clínica Bíblica’s head of marketing, adding that Brazil and Chile are the only other countries in Latin America to have International Joint Commission accredited hospitals.
Founded by U.S. missionaries 77 years ago, Clínica Bíblica – a private, Christian hospital – claims 15% of its patients come from other countries. Of those, 60% come from the United States, while 10% come from Canada, 10% from the United Kingdom, and 3% from Panama.
Half of those visitors come for plastic surgery – everything from tummy tucks to face lifts to boob jobs – but more and more patients are also coming for other surgeries, dental procedures or medical check-ups. Morera said that these patients numbered around 6,000 in 2006, and the hospital is expecting that number to increase to 7,200-7,800 this year.
In October 2006, Clínica Bíblica launched a special page for potential patients outside Costa Rica on its Web site, www.clinicabiblica.com. Under the tag line “I’m On A Health Trip,” browsers can read detailed descriptions of the different available procedures, get price quotes and view profiles of doctors. The page also has sections on lodging and things to do in Costa Rica.
“It’s a hospital that can do everything,” Cook said, emphasizing the importance of a variety of services in the case of complications.
With the comparatively lower cost of Costa Rican health care, foreign patients often turn their trips to a doctor into small vacations for less than the cost of the treatment back home. After their procedures, patients stay an average of 10-15 days and spend between $2,000-3,000, according to statistics from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) published in the daily La Nación.
The phenomenon has produced a new species of hotel: the medical recovery resort.
Aimed mostly at plastic surgery patients, new hotels are springing up in Costa Rica, and around the world, to cater to medical tourists while they recover from their procedures (TT, Feb. 2). Cook said Clínica Bíblica is currently reviewing the options in Costa Rica for their clients.
“Patients need someone there to bring them food and change their bandages, so you can’t just stick them in a Holiday Inn,” he said.
With a new, $30 million building under construction at the Clínica Bíblica (TT, July 28, 2006) – of which part is already in use, and an entire floor is planned to be dedicated to medical tourists – Cook says projections are: “the sky is the limit.”
“We just have to get the things in place to handle the volume coming in,”Cook added.