Canada as a medical tourism destination?

Posted: April 18, 2010 in Health
Tags: ,

I read an interesting article in the Vancouver Sun. It is being suggested by Dr. Brian Day, former president of the Canadian Medical Association and founder of the Cambie Surgery Centre, that Canada, particularly B.C., should make an effort to become a medical tourism destination. This struck me as quite odd because I had recently watched a series of video interviews of Canadians who were expressing dismay over the U.S. health care reform bill, saying it would mean an end to their ability to use the U.S. as a medical tourism destination. Dr. Day’s suggestion seems to fly in the face of what many Canadians already do, which is leave Canada for medical treatment.

A few statistics in the story are provided to help explain the reasons for Canada’s oversubscribed health care system and the long wait times. One study showed that despite a shortage of health care workers, 58 percent of newly graduated nurses were unemployed. Of newly trained Canadian orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons, 50 per cent leave because they cannot find work. Those are crazy statistics. How can that possibly be the case?

Dr. Day says it is because
“… our health care scheme is based on rationing and waiting lists. This prevents skilled health workers from obtaining full-time work and creates a peculiar paradox where, despite being in short supply, they are forced to leave.”

He proposes that by restructuring Canada’s system to allow for a privately developed medical tourism industry those doctors and nurses will have employment and Canada can capture some share of the US$160billion annual medical tourism revenues. Three million Americans per year seek medical care outside of the U.S. – none of them go to Canada because of the current system prevents it. In fact, 50,000 to 300,000 Canadians per year leave Canada for their health care.

It is an interesting proposal but the doctor’s underlying motivations are wrong. He wants a Canadian medical tourism industry so that jobs can be provided to medical workers and to help subsidize health care for Canadians. That would poison the industry result in political meddling so it seems unlikely Canada would be able to compete with established medical tourism centers elsewhere where the focus is top quality patient care to attract the customers, not subsidizing the failing local infrastructure.

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