Growing number of B.C. residents travelling abroad for ‘medical tourism’

WATCH: A new report indicates that thousands of Canadians are leving the country for health care. John Hua reports.

A new study indicates more than 52,000 Canadians received non-emergency medical treatment outside of the country in 2014, a 26 per cent increase over the previous year.

Many of these medical tourists are from British Columbia. Physicians in B.C. reported the highest proportion of patients (in a province) receiving treatment abroad (1.6 per cent), while Ontario had the largest number of patients estimated to have left the country at 26,252.

So why are more Canadians becoming medical tourists?

“One very plausible explanation may have to do, at least in certain specialties, with the long wait times that Canadians face for treatment,” said Fraser Institute Senior Economist Bacchus Barua, the co-author of the study.

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“You have to think about whether forcing Canadians into this situation is really the sort of system we want to have going forward,” says Barua.

The top five medical areas that have Canadians travelling abroad are:

1. Internal medicine, which includes everything that colonoscopies to angiographies
2. Urology
3. Ophthalmology procedures
4. General surgery
5. Orthopedic procedures such as hip and knee replacements

But some say there are risks to receiving medical treatment abroad. Cheaper costs and shorter wait times made Katherine Halstead travel to Mexico last September for gastric bypass surgery.

“They didn’t sew me up properly,” Halstead says. “Then they ripped my spleen and they ripped my bowels. Everything was internally bleeding and that’s what was killing me.”

Doctors of BC say improvements are being made to health care north of the 49th parallel, but they aren’t surprised Canadians are getting treatment out of town.

However, they warn bad surgeries abroad may be compounding problems at home.

“When they come back, if there are concerns, yes, it is putting an increased capacity strain on the current Canadian health care system,” says Doctors of BC President Williams Cavers.

-with files from John Hua and David Shum


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