More Canadians are choosing medical tourism over the country’s wait times to have surgery but researchers say the long-term risks could outweigh the short-term benefits.
Wait times for knee and hip replacement surgeries are more than five months for between 19 per cent and 23 per cent of patients. It’s even longer when the time to see a specialist and then a surgeon is added.
Angela Bugera was frustrated with her already long wait to see a specialist. The appointment ended up being only five minutes, and that was only to find out if she was a candidate for hip replacement surgery. She grew even more frustrated when she learned she would have to wait even longer to see a surgeon.
“So I had no idea, after waiting a whole year, how long it would take to actually get the surgery,” said Bugera. “I just felt that was it, I was going to find a solution outside of the system.”
Instead of waiting to get the surgery in Canada, Bugera turned to medical tourism that would allow her to get the surgery almost immediately -- as long as she paid for it.
“My handicap was growing weekly and it was noticeable and that’s why I decided to go to a private clinic and get it done and pay for it,” said Bugera.
Bugera decided to have her hip replacement surgery in a new private hospital in the Cayman Islands called Health City Cayman Islands, which has an office set up in Hamilton, Ont. Bugera paid $18,000 for the surgery, which she had in August, before returning home to recuperate and have her follow-up appointments.
A Fraser Institute study found that 52,513 people received treatment outside of the country in 2014, a 26 per cent jump from 2013. However, the report also found that there are high rates of complications in those returning home from surgery in some countries.
“This is a practice that covers the three “U’s” of global travel: it’s untracked, untraced and unregulated and what that results in is a lot of speculation,” said Valorie Crooks of the Simon Fraser University Medical Tourism research group.
Complications can include being exposed to antibiotic-resistant organisms which then pose a risk to public health in Canada, difficulties with follow up care once back in Canada and different malpractice laws that could make it difficult to sue if something goes wrong.
To find out more information from Canadians returning from medical tourism, Crooks wants more questions asked when they are returning. For example, when returning from abroad, people are usually asked if they have been on a farm because, according to Crooks, there is potential for the transmission of different diseases.
“If we ask simple questions like, ‘Did you receive medical care abroad?’ or ‘Did you spend time in a hospital abroad?’ this can help us better prepare ourselves for understandings the implications of this practice,” said Crooks.
A medical tourism show called Destination Health recently set up in Toronto, showcasing dozens of featured medical facilities around the world that Canadians can travel to if they want their surgery quickly and they’re willing to pay for it.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip