Expats and medical tourists should do their homework first

El Diario Extra played the story about the liposuction
death of a judge as the top story of the day.

Never does the phrase “you get what you pay for” apply more strongly than in seeking medical care in Costa Rica.

A medical tourist who looks only to price, is bound to have troubles. Some of them can be very serious.

Costa Rica has a range of medical practitioners. Some are graduates of prestigious U.S. and European universities and medical schools. Others have the equivalent of a four-year undergraduate education at a Costa Rican school.

The term banana docs is thrown at graduates of Latin American institutions because they have not completed the many years of study and internships required in First World countries.  That really is unfair because there are some Costa Rica-educated physicians and surgeons who are highly respected and highly capable. Some Cuban-educated physicians are among the world’s best.

Yet there are continual claims of students failing to study and then buying a passing grade.

The main point is that the medical tourist and even expats have to shop around.

The same is true for dentists. Most First World visitors would be surprised to see an unlicensed individual practicing dentistry out of his garage. But they do. On the other end of the spectrum are highly sophisticated operations with the most modern equipment.

The medical tourist must have some knowledge that enforcement of medical laws is not as rigorous here as, say, in the United States.

There have been serious problems. A recent Spanish-language newspaper exposé pointed out that there are no rules to prevent a holder of a four-year undergraduate medical degree from doing the most complex operations.

There also has been a recent criminal action against a physician on the allegation that she contributed to the death  of a judge, a liposuction patient, by putting her under anesthesia too long. The doctor maintains a surgery operation in a converted house.

Another allegation launched by a former top model is that a physician injected damaging material into her buttock. The press conference included photos of both cheeks of the woman’s buttock being heavily damaged and full of dead flesh.

Although accidents can happen in the best medical facilities, would-be visitors should look to the local professional associations first to make sure the persons to whom they are talking to are members. These associations are legally constituted by the legislature, and membership is obligatory for physicians and dentists.

They are called colegios, but are certainly not colleges in the sense of undergraduate education. These organizations also arbitrate complaints. If a professional is ejected, he or she is barred by the law from working in their field.

A search engine of physicians and surgeons is HERE.

The dental colegio is HERE!

Also possible is for a potential patent to make a call to the appropriate colegio.

A good start for those in need of medical care is the professional advertisements in reputable newspapers and in this publication. A.M. Costa Rica has never had a valid complaint about the medical care given by an advertiser. This newspaper also publishes news stories about complaints from patients who believe they have been mistreated by medical workers. An Internet search also will turn up a person with a history of problems.

Then the visitor or resident expat should check to see if the professional has had international advanced training in various specialties. Such information usually is available on the individual’s Web site and can be crossed checked with the international crediting agency.

The major hospitals here also provide a list of professionals on their staffs and the specialities. This is a good recommendation.

Those who travel to Costa Rica need to be aware that some agencies and individuals promote various professionals because they are getting a commission. That is not unethical, but the fact adds another dimension to evaluating the professional.

Finally, expats and medical tourists should be aware that there is little chance for malpractice suits. The professions stick together and the court system is highly challenging.

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