More than 45,000 Canadians sought healthcare outside the country last year

A new study suggests that long waiting times are forcing many Canadian patients to leave the country

More than 45,000 Canadians sought healthcare outside the country last year
Good things come to those who wait, or so they say. But when good care can’t come fast enough, some Canadians decide to find it somewhere else.

A new study from the Fraser Institute, Leaving Canada for Medical Care 2016, reports that an estimated 45,619 patients received non-emergency medical treatment outside of Canada. The study obtained this number by cross-referencing data from the institute’s annual Waiting Your Turn survey of Canadian physicians, which covered 12 major medical specializations, and data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which tallies the number of procedures performed in Canada.

Breaking down the number of patients who traveled abroad by specialty, urologists reported the most (4,974), followed by ophthalmologists (4,635), then general surgeons (4,495). Slicing the data by province, B.C. physicians had the highest proportion of patients receiving treatment abroad (1.5%). That amounts to an estimated total of 10,315 patients, while the country’s most populated province, Ontario, experienced 22,352 patients leaving Canada.

The 2015 patient migration numbers were actually an improvement over 2014, when the estimated number reached 52,513. Still, last year’s count was higher than 2013’s calculation of 41,838.

When it comes to medical tourism, those that decide to seek treatment abroad often cite a lack of available resources, a preference for more advanced facilities, or simply the fact that a procedure or piece of equipment is not provided in their home jurisdiction as reasons for their decision. In this study, long waiting times were given as a key consideration for people seeking treatment outside of Canada.

“A large number of Canadians clearly feel they have to leave the country to obtain needed and timely medical care,” said Bacchus Barua, one of the authors of the study and senior economist for health-care studies at the Fraser Institute. “Considering Canada’s long healthcare wait times and their potential negative effects, it’s not surprising that so many Canadians are travelling abroad for medical treatment.”

In 2015, an annual measurement of healthcare wait times conducted by the Fraser Institute found that patients waited 9.8 weeks for medically necessary treatment after seeing a specialist. This was almost three weeks longer than what is considered clinically “reasonable” by physicians.

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