A Medical Tale of Two Latin American Countries

It comes as no surprise that Costa Rica and Peru – offering good hospitals and highly qualified doctors – are becoming destinations of choice for medical, dental and cosmetic treatments and surgeries.

For instance, tourism minister of Costa Rica, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, points out that, “In Costa Rica, we are well-equipped in every way for medical and wellness tourism, and both are high on our marketing promotions list.” Farther south, Peru is entering the medical tourism market, now supported by a new Peru health portal, Disfruta Salud Peru (peruhealth.org), that presents an extensive portfolio of medical services in health and aesthetics as related to four main specialties: plastic surgery, dentistry, ophthalmology, and fertility treatments. The portal is part of an initiative of the Peruvian Export and Tourism Promotion Board, PromPeru.

costa rica Costa Rica has fast become the leading destination for medical tourism in Latin America, as foreigners seek out professional medical attention at prices lower than in their country of origin. The list of services sought includes elective procedures, as well as specialized surgeries.

Indeed, the Deloitte Medical Tourism Report on Costa Rica notes that in 2008, the country received an estimated 540,000 U.S. medical tourists, dividing into: dental (36 percent); cosmetic surgery (12 percent); surgeries such as orthopedic (22 percent); ophthalmology (1 percent); medical treatments (14 percent); and other medical expenses (15 percent).

Leigh Ann Cloutier, specialist in Costa Rica and president of Rico Tours, is one of many tour operators that have been reluctant to expand their travel services to handle medical tourism clients for a very simple reason: patient liability. However, after a couple of years of research, “I have found a way around the problem,” Cloutier says, “by using the services of a company called Costa Rica MD (costaricamd.org). We refer the travelers directly to them, and they assist with all the medical stuff right from the get-go, starting with a list of doctors who specialize in whatever the client requires. Rico Tours then supports the medical program with the customized travel portion.”

According to Cloutier, this almost always includes air transportation, transfers, private car and driver, and accommodations during pre- and/or post-treatments. And then she adds, “Some medical clients will use the homes and private villas with whom we have special arrangements, and others want to combine their successful medical treatment with a restorative stay in those gorgeous lodges with full spas that Costa Rica does so well.”

Costa Rica MD is a medical tourism facilitator located in Costa Rica, with U.S.-based partners. On its own, the organization assists both in choosing the right facility and from its network of doctors and dentists, helps to match specific needs in medical, dental and cosmetic treatments and procedures. Additionally, it also offers personalized medical tourism packages to include transportation, tours, and pre- and post-operative lodgings at a hotel, spa or recuperation center.

Costa Rica MD works with the three hospitals, all accredited by the international Joint Commission: CIMA, affiliated with Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas; Hospital Clinica Biblica, the largest private hospital in Costa Rica; and Hospital La Catolica, offering a new concept that combines medical services with accommodations for recovering patients at its 34-room Hotel La Posada El Convento. Costa Rica MD clients enjoy a special service, arranged through the hospitals’ International Patient Department, which assigns a personal health-care assistant who works one-on-one to coordinate an all-embracing service, from hospital admittance, to arrangements for consultations and surgical procedures, to patient follow-up back home.

peru Peru is probably a less-familiar destination for those in the U.S. seeking alternative places to go for medical treatment. However, most of us have heard of the 20th century’s most famous cardiologist, Ellis Michael Debakey, whose patients included the likes of Russian president Boris Yeltsin and actress Marlene Dietrich. Not everyone knows, however, that Debakey was a Peruvian, and one who trained dozens of Peruvian doctors at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. That said, the most popular treatments that international travelers seek in Peru are generally plastic surgery, dentistry, pathologies of the eye, gastrectomy (obesity surgery) and fertility treatments.

Such treatments are part of a new Health & Wellness program introduced by Lima Tours. It takes advantage of today’s new accent on wellness and medical travel and of Peru’s new luxury lodging infrastructure, which is not only more deluxe but incorporates state-of-the-art spas with a full range of treatments that are good for both body and soul. Carlos Alberto Arrarte, president of Lima Tours, points out that, “Our new Health & Wellness program, highlighting renewal of both mind and body in Peru’s most spiritual places, also includes an option for medical treatments and surgery, for which we have vetted a group of doctors and dentists who are at the top of their specialties.”