Challenges for Canada medical tourism

Posted: May 1, 2010 in Health

In a previous post I talked about a story in which a Canadian doctor suggested B.C. Canada should work to become a medical tourism destination. It seemed rather contradictory since so many Canadians flee the long wait time in Canada and become health care tourists to other countries. But the doctor’s argument is that another system outside the current health care system could be developed to bring in foreign dollars for medical care. It would also help employ many health care workers who can’t find jobs even though there is a shortage of care, another unintended consequence of the current Canadian ration and wait system.

There are plenty of critics of this idea. Dr. Anne Doig, a Saskatoon physician who is president of the Canadian Medical Association, says “The altruist in me says you don’t go offering your services to offshore [and non-resident] clients until you’ve provided services to everybody within your own borders.” Altruist? I think an altruist would be concerned with everybody getting good care rather than giving preference based on place of residence. Maybe better if the doctor chose another label.

Health Minister Kevin Falcon was another person who put forward the idea of turning B.C. into an international medical tourism destination by turning some B.C. hospitals into profit-driven “Mayo Clinics of the North.” His idea is they would use facilities on nights and weekends, when operating rooms are typically idle. Perhaps that works since many health care workers are actually idled and don’t need those times off.

A big road block to the idea is liablity insurance. The Canadian Medical Protective Association provides the vast majority of doctors in Canada with lawyers, and pays compensation in negligence lawsuits. That organization isn’t interested in providing coverage for doctors who treat foreign patients. And since Canada’s legal system is another one that likes to give large award for emotional distress this is probably one of the biggest obstacles to the whole idea. You can’t compete on price in a litigious culture.

Then of course you must consider that if a foreign patient can get immediate treatment then why not a Canadian patient? Just go private, pay out of pocket and “jump the queue”. But then what happens if there are complications and the Canadian patient wants treatment under the national health care plan? Are they denied like that case in the UK where a Briton had back surgery overseas and needed followup care but was denied, saying they had to start over with an 18 month wait to see a doctor for initial consultation.

The long wait times in Canada spawned a new industry insuring people against them, with companies like Timely Medical Alternatives selling policies to cover costs of seeking private treatment elsewhere. A spokesman for that company says the idea of developing private medical tourism in Canada is great but doesn’t have a chance because hospitals don’t even know their costs. That’s sort of a big LOL and shows you what happens when you spend other people’s money on other people – you have no idea or interest in what anything costs or if you are getting any value. The idea of treating private foreign patients in a timely manner while Canadians are on a waiting list is never going to fly either.

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