More and more North Americans are saying adios to expensive healthcare costs in the United States and Canada and opting to take advantage of comparable medical services in countries like Costa Rica, often at 30 to 80% of the cost. Plus, throw in some recovery time at a relaxing volcanic mud spa or the lush rainforests and you’ve not only fixed your health problem – you’ve found the perfect excuse for a tropical vacation.
I spoke with Dr. Daianna Morales, dentist at the Odontologia Integral Dental Clinic in Playas del Coco, Guanacaste, about her thoughts on medical tourism in Costa Rica.
What exactly is medical tourism? Why do people come to Costa Rica for medical services?
Well, mostly because we offer the same standards and quality that they have at home. It costs them half of the price and sometimes even less. Plus, they can come have a nice vacation and enjoy themselves while they are getting pretty.
For example, in the United States a root canal might cost $2,500 – here it’s $200. One of my Canadian patients was quoted $12,000 for dental work that I was able to quote for $2,800 – half of which his dental insurance agreed to pay for.
What percentage of your patients are here for medical procedures? Have you noticed any trends or changes in the past years?
75% of my patients are not from Costa Rica. In the low season a lot of Americans come to the office to get bridges, implants, crowns, veneers…in the high season, from November to March, we also get a wave of Canadians coming to get everything done. Last year I did many of their teeth, and now they are back this year to check up and make sure that everything still looks good, and to get cleanings.
What are the most common procedures you perform on international patients? Implants, crowns, bridges, veneers, plates, and partials – basically, all types of prosthodontics (rehabilitating people’s mouths). Let’s say you go to the dentist in the States, and the dentist tells you that you need to do X, Y and Z – and this is how much it’s going to cost. As soon as patients have that, they call or write me an email saying, “Ok, how much is this going to cost me?”
Once they see that it is going to cost half of what I would cost in the USA or Canada, they ask how long it is going to take…The patient comes to Costa Rica and sits down in my office. I prepare their teeth, take impressions, etc…and a week later it comes back for me to cement everything. I at least need 8 days, but I always tell them 10 days to be safe.
Are patients generally happy with the care that they receive?
They almost always come back. They also do referrals – which is really good! Right now I have lots of Canadians coming in, and lots of referrals from patients from last year. We also have patients that go home and ask their dentists, “Is this well done?” Their dentists take X-rays and everything, and I’ve not had a complaint yet.
How do facilities compare to those in the USA/Canada?
It’s pretty much the same. Everything we have here is brought from the States. For example I just got this new digital x-ray system. Most of our brands are the same as those they have in the States. My technician is an American, so I know we are using the same things they use there. It’s not that it’s less quality or the products are inferior, it’s just that we don’t have to deal with as many things as you guys in the US – insurance, etc.
What are the most popular fields for medical tourism? Plastic surgery, anything that has to do with boobs, noses, Botox, lifting…Dentistry is very big.
Well, I’ve been here in Coco for just a year. But before that I was in Comunidad, which is not such a touristic area. I moved to Coco because most of what I got there was from foreigners visiting. You see more and more foreigners coming to the dentist. The first thing they ask is for prices, and they are always amazed.
Do you know if US insurance companies cover international health expenses?
Most of my foreign patients don’t have dental insurance.The ones that have dental insurance are often reimbursed for at least some.