San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Driver’s licenses, physicals going digital

When a Costa Rican national or resident requires a driver’s license, among the requirements is that a dictámen medico (health physical) be filed with the Roadway Safety Council (COSEVI). Blank forms are issued by the Costa Rican Doctors and Surgeons Association to all doctors willing to offer this service to their patients.

Doctors then check an applicant’s vital signs and physical condition to ensure that the person is capable of driving. The doctor also notes the patient’s blood type.

Although the procedure seems normal enough, the dictámen médico has become a controversial issue. Outside COSEVI’s facilities in San José’s northwestern district of La Uruca, gavilanes (translators) sell their services to help with the procedure, offering to take applicants to nearby clinics in exchange for a fee. Until recently, they also sold the forms in the street.

Doctors at nearby clinics charge about 15,000 ($30) to fill out the forms. Some skip the examination.

To rein in the unregulated practices, the doctors association recently changed its rules, allowing only medical practitioners to buy the forms for their clinics. “We did this in order to avoid gavilanes getting a hold of the forms,” said Alexis Castillo, president of the association.

But now the association has a new plan: digitize the whole process starting in 2012.

Linking up digitally will help doctors avoid having to go to the association to buy the forms. Instead, the association plans to create an online database where everything can be filled out online. Once completed a doctor would save the information in the system, where COSEVI can immediately access it.

To help applicants avoid overpaying, a second change will be implemented that will allow examination fees to be paid at banks at a rate set by the association.

“We are currently speaking with the Public Works and Transport Ministry and COSEVI to hopefully have this system up and running in January 2012. It is a long process since we have to make sure that the system is very secure, considering it will manage private information,” Castillo said.

Castillo said that digital records would also help officials track public health trends. A draft of the plan should be finished by the end of the month.

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