Hospitals in Syracuse, New York are making a very particular sales pitch, looking to capitalize on Canadians sick of surgery wait times.
The University Hill Corp., a Syracuse non-profit organization represents hospitals and academic institutions, is hoping to target Ontarians who need everything from from knee replacement surgeries to colonoscopies.
“We recognize that some of the procedures which are most in demand in Ontario and have the longest wait times are also procedures that we have specialists and large physician practices that can address those issues,” said University Hill Corporation President David Mankiewicz.
READ MORE: B.C. wait times grow for third year in a row
He cites a Fraser Institute survey that estimated more than 52,000 Canadians left the country for non-emergency medical treatment in 2014.
“Being just 100 miles south of the border, we are looking to capture some of that traffic,” Mankiewicz said.
The “Leaving Canada for Medical Care” study from the right-leaning Fraser Institute collected data from a national survey conducted in 2014 of 2,382 doctors across Canada in 12 major medical specialities.
The study found that 26,252 Ontarians left the country for medical care abroad.
“We understood from our counterparts in Buffalo that they were seeing traffic obviously from Toronto,” he said.
Mankiewicz said they are currently in the second part of their study to determine how to best reach Ontarians, but didn’t offer a timeline of when they would begin advertising.
“We want to build up physician-to-physician relationships,” he said. “It’s critical that [Canadian residents] understand who the physicians are here and who the practices are and what the hospitals offer.”
But how bad are wait times in Canada?
According to the Canadian Institute For Health Information, although half of patients received a knee replacement in 104 days, one out of 10 waited 263 days or more for surgery. When looking at hip replacements surgery one in 10 wait 230 days.
Dr. Chris Simpson, chair of the Wait Time Alliance and a cardiologist at Kingston general hospital, said while some wait times have improved, it really depends where you live and what procedure you need.
“There are places, particularly in the GTA, where wait times for hip and knee replacement are measured in weeks,” he said.
In Timmins, on the other hand, wait times can stretch more than a year.
“I can certainly see there would be some Ontarians who are facing egregiously long wait times.”
Simpson suspects there’s are prospective market for medical tourists in Ontario, but he thinks it would be on the smaller side.
“I can certainly understand if there are people who are facing and 18 month versus a three- or four-week wait, that it might be quite tempting,” he said.
But it can be costly:
According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a knee replacement at a Syracuse hospital can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $27,000.
And, Simpson notes, the costs of any follow-up visits in Canada once a person returns from surgery abroad would absorbed by the Canadian taxpayer.
A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health said the Liberal government has invested more than $1.9 billion to reduce wait times.
“As of November 2015, 97 percent of general surgeries in Ontario are being performed within the provincial target, as well as 88 percent of hip replacements and 84 percent of knee replacements,” Joanne Woodward Fraser said in a statement.
It can be tough to pinpoint why Canadians who get public health care travel abroad for medical services, says Krystyna Adams , a Ph. D student at Simon Fraser University who works with the university’s Medical Tourism Research Group.
While wait times are a factor, some experimental services aren’t available yet in Canada, she said.
“It’s a really complicated topic. Because when you try to identify something as purely elective versus necessary care it’s filled with lots of nuance and shades of grey.”
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