The Costa Rica model: high-quality affordable primary health care for all

As countries work toward universal health coverage, Costa Rica offers a successful model of bringing higher quality, more affordable primary health care to those who need it.

The Ariadne Labs Primary Health Care team has provided new insight into how Costa Rica’s health system became a model for the world in a new report, “Building a Thriving Primary Health-Care System: The Story of Costa Rica.” In this detailed case study, PHC Program Director Dr. Asaf Bitton and researcher Madeline Pesec describe how the primary health care system functions from the clinical and patient perspectives. It also captures key lessons learned from the Costa Rican experience that can be applied to primary health care delivery in other settings.

The report is highlighted in a new Project Syndicate op-ed, “What happens when primary health care is universal?” “By placing primary health care at the center of the system, the country has improved coverage rates and outcomes, while delivering more personalized treatment,” Bitton and Presec write.

In a companion Project Syndicate video, “The Promise of Primary Care,” Bitton explains the important role primary health care plays in addressing the major challenges of global health. These challenges, Bitton argues, can be effectively addressed by the five core functions of primary health care: contact access, continuity, coordination, comprehensive range of services and person-centeredness.

While building effective primary health care systems does include “building clinics and supply chains,” Bitton says these things happen “without losing sight of the real goal: creating a reliable source of accessible, competent and trusted care to promote and maintain health over a lifetime.”