Last year, more than 36,000 tourists visited Costa Rica to receive medical or wellness treatments. That number has steadily increased each year as more medical tourists choose Costa Rica for their major health needs.
As the industry grows by an estimated 20-30 percent each year, industry experts say Costa Rica needs more and better-prepared personnel to assist medical tourists.
Most medical tourists come to San José for medical treatment and recover at various centers on the Pacific coast and in the Central Valley. Medical trips to Costa Rica can cost up to 30 percent less than the same procedures in the United States.
In the past few years, Costa Rica has become one of the region’s most popular destinations for medical tourism. The Council for International Promotion of Costa Rican Medicine, or PROMED, positions the country in the world’s top five destinations for quality medical tourism. According to PROMED, last year medical tourism generated more than $295 million dollars.
Last May, PROMED organized the Medical Travel International Business Summit in the northwestern Guanacaste province. It was an opportunity for international companies to discuss Costa Rica’s future in the industry (TT, May 6).
Last week, PROMED sponsored ExpoMed, a medical tourism trade fair. Unlike the International Business Summit, ExpoMed was open to the general public. The event featured seminars, a job fair and networking opportunities.
According to PROMED, the most common procedures that travelers receive in Costa Rican hospitals are: hip replacements, weight-loss surgery, heart surgery and cancer follow-up treatment. Up to 95 percent of all medical tourists come from the United States and Canada. To meet growing demand, the local industry will need more qualified doctors, therapists, nurses, international insurance specialists and customer service agents.
Representatives from 30 companies attended ExpoMed, seeking to hire professionals or offer medical services to buyers. According to the PROMED, nearly 1,000 job offers were available during the fair.
Hospital Metropolitano, which recently opened a new facility in Tibás – a district north of San José – and will soon open another facility north of San José in Heredia, sought candidates for administrative and medical jobs.
Clínica Bíblica Hospital had a number of job openings for microbiologists, radiology technicians, primary care technicians and other positions. Clínica Católica had job openings for general physicians, nurses, nutritionists and physical therapists. CIMA Hospital was looking for customer service agents. Homewatch Caregivers, a private home care company, was looking to hire doctors specializing in multiple fields, as well as physical therapists, nutritionists and technical personnel specialized in medical care.
“I have a university degree in respiratory therapy. I came looking for a job in a clinic or hospital, or an opportunity to take care of patients in their homes. … I’m crossing my fingers for them to consider my résumé,” job seeker Carlota Brenes said.
According to Massimo Manzi, executive director of PROMED, job fairs are an important element of expanding the industry. “There is a serious lack of technicians when it comes to the health area. Through these encounters, people are able to see which positions might give them quicker access to a job,” he said.
Many local universities with health degree programs also attended the fair, as well as the National Training Institute (INA), which prepares students to work in medical tourism.
“We’re incorporating medical tourism training into our programs,” said Wendy Rodríguez, an INA instructor. “For example, training for chefs will include classes on cooking for patients, housekeeping students will learn how to work in recovery centers, and receptionists will adapt to medical tourism centers.”
The Innovation and Technology Institute offered an 18-month course on medical tourism management. “We want to prepare people to be able to handle international medical insurance and understand the medical history of a patient coming from abroad,” institute owner Dennis Durán said.