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This paper provides insights into how Costa Rican public hospitals responded to the pressure for increased efficiency and quality introduced by the reforms carried out over the period 1997-2001. To that purpose we compute a generalized output distance function by means of non-parametric mathematical programming to construct a productivity index, which accounts for productivity changes while controlling for quality of care. Our results show an improvement in hospital performance mainly driven by quality increases. The adoption of management contracts seems to have contributed to such enhancement, more notably for small hospitals. Further, productivity growth is primarily due to technical and scale efficiency change rather than technological change. A number of policy implications are drawn from these results. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.