The Costa Rican Health Care System for Travelers

  • by crv.staff
  • 12.06.09
  • 10:45 AM UTC
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I recently read a great article on Ecointeractive‘s blog that had some really helpful information for folks that may need health care while in Costa Rica. Whether you’re just visiting and heaven forbid you cut a toe on a rock while on some sort of eco-adventure, or you’re living in the area a few months a year, knowing what to expect can make a traumatic event a little easier.

Written by James D. Brausch and originally published February 15th, 2008
When traveling abroad with your family, health care should always be part of your planning. The good news is the Costa Rica’s health care is much better than in the United States by just about any measurement. The World Health Organization, infant survivability rates, overall life expectancy and every other measurement shows Costa Rica to be a much healthier place to live than the United States. You’ll have to look up the statistics if you want to compare to another country.
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What we like most is that you will frequently find doctors right in the pharmacies. Many times, but not always, they speak English. We have found this very helpful as you do not have to make multiple stops to get medical advice and medications. This aspect of the Costa Rican medical system is far superior to what we have in North America. Many travelers report that this is particularly beneficial.There is a free universal access health care system in Costa Rica. Running in parallel to the free health care system is a very low cost and high quality health care system. Most doctors that work for the state sponsored health care system also have private practices in the afternoon in their own offices or in one of the private hospitals. The clinics are excellent and you won’t wait for hours to receive medical attention in an emergency.

Another nice aspect for families is that there are bi-ligual doctors that will make house calls. Typically the cost is less than $100. We have found the doctors to be very professional in general.

I developed a cough during one of my stays and went to a private doctor. The cost was $15 and he thoroughly examined me and gave me several prescriptions. I was apparently alergic to one of the prescriptions and had a bad reaction. I returned to that doctor and received replacement prescriptions. On the way out, I asked for the bill. There wasn’t one. The doctor felt that his first consultation hadn’t worked out for me, so there was no charge for the 2nd consultation.

When could you ever expect to see a doctor for $15 in the United States? When would you ever expect a doctor to take responsibility for the outcome and not charge for a follow-up visit in the United States?

The cough spread to my two children a year old and two years old. I wanted them to be seen by the best doctor in the country. I couldn’t risk an adverse reaction like I had. After asking around, I got an appointment at Clinica Biblica which is one of the private hospitals in Costa Rica.

It was very modern and typical of a United States hospital except that the ceilings were low (Costa Rican’s are shorter on average than U.S. residents). The wait was only 15 minutes. My boys received a very thorough exam and received shots and oral prescriptions. The total cost was $50 each. Try that in the U.S. The treatment worked just fine this time.

Recently my 14 month old who is learning to walk climbed up on the couch arm and took a dive for the tile floor head first. This was the most tramatic need we have had for medical service. We live in Heredia and it is 45 minutes to Clinica Biblica. I was worried about a concussion.

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We immediately took a taxi to Clinica Biblica and was seen in 10 minutes in the emergency room. The doctor agreed that we needed xrays to see what was under the 1.5 inch lump on Peter’s forehead. We were in and out of radiology in 20 minutes. The doctor saw us again immediately to review the xray. There was no fracture.

He prescribed pain and inflamation medication for Peter and we went to pay the bill. The bill was less than $100. I paid $100 and received some change. I didn’t notice how much, but I suspect the total bill was about $90. Try that in an emergency room in the United States.

Also, they have no address for us… so we absolutely know there will be no additional bills. In the U.S., you can receive new bills for various services up to a year later. They also have no credit card information. The $90 was it. It’s done and paid for.

An additional benefit to healthcare in Costa Rica is that most things that are prescriptions in the U.S. can be purchased over the counter at any pharmacy in Costa Rica. Farmacias are as plentiful as grocery stores and small restaurants here. You just go to the farmacia and tell them what ails you and a qualified pharmacists (who usually studied in the U.S.) will give you what would be a prescription drug in the U.S. You completely bypass the doctor, the associated costs and the waiting. You just get the medication you need. Try that in the U.S.?

Downsides?

All of the major hospitals are in the central valley area. If you wish to live on the coast, you may have a 2-3 hour drive to a major hospital.

The roads are horrible in Costa Rica. In a true emergency, even living close to a hospital can result in being stuck in a traffic jam or trapped by weather.

The ambulance service is reported to be very poor both in terms of response time and in terms of quality of care. They just aren’t as well trained on average as U.S. EMTs and paramedics, nor do they have as much specialized equipment.

As you can imagine… even with those downsides… We love Costa Rica when it comes to healthcare!

Rating 3.50 out of 5

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