Can Canada persuade Americans to be medical tourists?


Canada has medical problems; there are long waiting lists, few Canadians can legally buy health insurance, the provision of private hospitals is poor, and many frustrated Canadians travel to the US or elsewhere for medical treatment. But some Canadian hospitals and agencies that send Canadians to the US or elsewhere, hope they can persuade Americans to go to Canada for treatment.

Those seeing the potential in Canada say the corridor that includes Buffalo, Niagara, Hamilton and Toronto is the most likely destination as it has both hospitals and hotels. The trick will be convincing Americans that private healthcare is equal on quality to the US, and after taking accommodation and travel into account; the cost savings are worth the trip. Many US residents travel down to Central and Latin America for treatment due to close proximity. Although savings are much less for those near its border, private hospitals in Canada could become a lucrative market.

Those promoting inbound medical tourism argue that in comparison to US health costs, medical tourism patients can save 30 to 60 percent on health costs in Canada. For Americans, a medical procedure done in Canada can be a good economical choice. There are no security concerns in travel to Canada, and no language barriers.

Proponents point to Canada’s quality of health care as cited by the World Health Organization as equal to if not better than that of the US in most categories. The WHO does not differentiate between public and private care. A more recent survey says that the Canadian public health care system has flunked an international comparison test. According to Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP), a research organization, Canada's health care system ranks 23rd among 32 nations surveyed for quality, access and innovation.

" Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2009," the second annual report, measures patients' rights and information, waiting times for treatment, outcomes, the range and reach of services provided and access to pharmaceuticals.  Out of the 1000 points available, the Index ranked countries in the following manner:

1 The Netherlands  824 points

2 Austria                    813 points

3 Luxembourg          795 points

4 Denmark                794 points

5 Germany                769 points

23 Canada                549 points

According to researchers, wait times to see a doctor and receive treatment dragged the Canadian ranking toward the bottom. Patients were waiting between 3-15 months for treatment, when they could have received the same quality of care in Germany, France or the Netherlands in two weeks.

The Canadian system insures everyone, and all Canadians have access to basic and critical health care without ever seeing a doctor or hospital bill. But demands on the system have led to waiting lists for treatments such as MRI scans, cataract and artery bypass surgeries and hip replacements.

Both American and Canadian health systems need urgent attention. How quickly one or both are fixed, will have a lot more influence on the medical tourism flows to and from Canada than anything else.



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