A few weeks ago I traded several tweets with someone who was touting the benefits of Costa Rica as a medical tourism destination. I wound up getting a link to her company, called Exquisite Medical Tours, which specializes in arranging medical tourism visits to Costa Rica for North Americans.
Medical tourism can be a great deal for self-pay patients looking to save money, because fees charged at hospitals and surgical centers in other countries are typically far less than what is charged in the U.S. Assuming you’re going to a reputable destination (more on that in a second), the quality of care is generally quite high.
A few weeks back, I shared an ABC News report on employers who were sending employees overseas as medical tourists, saving a lot of money in the process. Around the same time CBS News had a similar report on medical tourism, discussing the benefits as well as what some of their guests viewed as the drawbacks.
Both reports made two things clear – medical tourism can mean major savings in health care, but you need to pay attention and make sure you’re going to a high-quality facility.
Back to Exquisite Medical Tours – like most medical tourism operators, they’re able to offer up-front package pricing, and generally the pricing delivers the type of savings you’d expect. For example, a total hip replacement has an average cost in the U.S. of $25,527 in the U.S., according to Healthcare Blue Book. According to Exquisite Medical Tours price sheet, their package price is $8,300.
Interestingly, the hernia repair prices listed by Exquisite Medical Tours are also less than the U.S. average, ranging from $5,100 to $7,500 for several different types of hernia repairs in Costa Rica compared to an average of over $9,000 at a U.S. hospital (Healthcare Blue Book doesn’t break the price down by the different types of hernia repair surgeries), but the Surgery Center of Oklahoma beats both with prices ranging from $3,060 to $4,500.
This suggests to me that facilities in the U.S. that want to compete for self-pay patients by offering package prices may be able to compete with some overseas facilities, at least for outpatient care. But it’s hard to know because so few facilities in the U.S. offer package prices.
So the prices look good through Exquisite Medical Tours. What about quality?
It’s hard to tell for sure is probably the best answer (that can be said about U.S. hospitals as well). But one source for finding information on the quality of care delivered by hospitals overseas is the Joint Commission International (JCI), an organization that accredits foreign hospitals. Their web site describes thems as follows:
Improving the quality, safety, and efficiency of health care is a goal shared by health care organizations and countries around the world. Health care providers everywhere must keep pace with globalization and match demand for high-quality, accessible care.
Local needs vary and diverse cultures present unique challenges, yet Joint Commission International (JCI) stands alone as a consistent beacon for patient safety and quality improvement in the global community. Created in 1994 by The Joint Commission, JCI has a presence in more than 90 countries today.
JCI works with health care organizations, governments, and international advocates to promote rigorous standards of care and provide solutions for achieving peak performance. Our experts help organizations help themselves in three ways: accreditation, education, and advisory services.
The one hospital mentioned on the Exquisite Medical Tours web site (in a patient testimonial), Clinica Biblica Hospital, is accredited by JCI, one of only two in the country that have been accredited. A third, Hospital La Catolica, was previously accredited but had that withdrawn in 2012 for undisclosed (at least on the web site) reasons.
Accreditation isn’t the only thing to look for, and in my opinion it is no guarantee of high quality. But at a minimum, it probably means that the hospital does adhere to generally accepted standards of quality, which should be reassuring to anyone considering going to Costa Rica for medical treatment at Clinica Biblica Hospital.
As mentioned above, JCI works in more than 90 countries, including popular medical tourism destinations like India, Indonesia, Mexico, Panama, and Thailand. Self-pay patients considering traveling overseas for medical treatment and wanting to make sure they’re going to be in a reputable facility with high standards might want to consider starting their research at the JCI web site. Another resource would be the Medical Tourism Guide, put out by the Medical Tourism Association.
Travelling overseas for treatment may not be everybody’s first choice, but for those that are interested an experienced medical tourism operator like Exquisite Medical Tours is a must – trying to navigate a foreign hospital system without the support of a professional just sounds like a bad idea on so many levels! Be sure to do your homework, not just on the hospital but on the operator as well.