Costa Rica: The Great Opportunity

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Costa Rica is the country of sunny beaches on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean rhythm on its Atlantic Coast. It is the country with the best coffee in the world, of tasty bananas, pineapple and melon consumed on the tables in five continents. It is also a country that manufactures microchips, develops software and where corporate services of important multinationals like Intel, Panasonic, Hewlett Packard and others are outsourced. Finally, it is the oldest democracy in Latin America, a country whose President, Dr Oscar Arias Sánchez, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The closeness of Costa Rica to the United States at just two hours and thirty minutes from Miami lures thousands of Americans to its beaches and volcanoes for ecotourism. However, the quality of its medical professionals, the guaranteed international level of service in its clinics, the hospitability of its people and its natural beauty and excellent hotel infrastructure lure thousands of patients to its shores, making Costa Rica the new convenient destination for medical tourism where patients can recover in full and relaxing comfort.

Competitiveness in Medical Services

The strengthening of a cluster of medical services is one of the priorities of the competitiveness program being developed by the Government of Costa Rica. It is estimated that in 2006 about 4,500 medical procedures were performed on non-Costa Rican patients. The immediate goal for the country is to provide an opportunity for at least 0.5% of Americans without medical insurance to travel to Costa Rica to get treatment, which would mean at least 230,000 patients.

To achieve this challenge, we are betting on the competitiveness of the whole system. The most effective way to accomplish this goal is first and foremost to safeguard the quality of physicians and hospitals. In terms of marketing, Costa Rica is developing the potential of receptive offers, particularly from specialized recovery centers, promoting agreements with large international insurers, and promoting medical and nursing careers in both public and private universities.

The Challenge of International Accreditation

Undoubtedly, the main challenge the country faces is to promote the international accreditation of its hospitals. Some Costa Rican structures have already started certification processed before the Joint Commission International (JCI), the international arm of the Joint Commission (JC), an organization endorsed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the short term, we want all hospitals in Costa Rica to be duly accredited, since we are aware that only in this way we can guarantee the positioning and sustainability of an industry with a lot of added value.

In past months, all agents related with the medi- cal services cluster were called by the National Competitiveness Council to work on a strategic development plan for the sector. Hospitals, physicians, hoteliers, and different Government entities (among them the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce) have committed to make our country a world-class medical center within the next 10 years.

We trust Costa Rica will be able to succeed in this challenge, becoming a regional leader in health care tourism, so we can again be referred to as the “Switzerland of Central America.” The immediate goal for the country is to provide an opportunity for at least 0.5% of Americans without medical insurance to travel to Costa Rica to get treatment, which would mean at least 230,000 patients.

Jorge Woodbridge González may be reached at jorgewg@racsa.co.cr