Medical Tuesday Blog

Leaving Canada To Escape Socialized Medicine’s Waiting List

May 30

Written by: Del Meyer
05/30/2017 4:45 AM 

Leaving Canada for Medical Care, 2016

by Bacchus Barua, Ingrid Timmermans, Matthew Lau, and Feixue Ren


In 2015, an estimated 45,619 Canadians received non-emergency medical treatment outside Canada. Physicians in British Columbia reported the highest proportion of patients (in a province) receiving treatment abroad (1.5%). The largest number of patients estimated to have left the country for treatment was from Ontario (22,352).

Across Canada, urologists reported the highest proportion of patients (in a specialty) travelling abroad for treatment (1.6%). The largest number of patients (in a specialty) also travelled abroad for urology procedures (4,974).

One explanation for patients travelling abroad to receive medical treatment may relate to the long waiting times they are forced endure in Canada’s health care system. In 2015, patients could expect to wait 9.8 weeks for medically necessary treatment after seeing a specialist—almost 3 weeks longer than the time physicians consider to be clinically “reasonable” (7.1 weeks).


By estimating how many Canadians receive health care outside the country each year, and the type of care they receive, we gain some insights into the state of health care and medical tourism.

Canadians who choose to seek treatment abroad do so for several reasons, many of which may relate to their inability to access quality health care in a timely fashion within Canada’s borders. Some patients may be sent out of country by the public health care system due to a lack of available resources or because some procedures or equipment are not provided in their home jurisdiction. Others may choose to leave Canada because they are concerned about quality (Walker et al., 2009) and are seeking more advanced health care facilities, state-of-the-art medical technologies, or better outcomes. Others may leave in order to avoid some of the adverse medical consequences of waiting for care, such as worsening of their condition, poorer outcomes following treatment, disability, or death (Esmail, 2009; Barua et al., 2013; Day, 2013). Some may leave simply to avoid delay and to make a quicker return to normal life.

While there is no readily available data on the number of Canadians travelling abroad for health care, it is possible to produce an estimate of these numbers from data gathered through the Fraser Institute’s Waiting Your Turn survey and from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which tallies the numbers of procedures performed in Canada.

Estimating the number of patients leaving Canada for health care Each year, the Fraser Institute conducts a survey of physicians across Canada in 12 major medical specialties: plastic surgery, gynaecology, ophthalmology, general surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedic surgery, cardiovascular surgery, urology, internal medicine, radiation oncology, and medical oncology.1 Included in the survey is the question: “Approximately what percentage of your patients received non-emergency medical treatment. 1

The answers are averaged for each of the specialties studied in Waiting Your Turn for each province, producing a table that reports the average percentage of patients receiving treatment outside Canada (Barua, 2015: table 11). . .  Physicians in British Columbia reported the highest proportion of patients (in a province) that received treatment abroad (1.5%), while at the other end of the scale physicians in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island reported that only 0.4% of their patients travelled abroad for treatment in 2015.

Table 2: Estimated number of patients receiving treatment outside of Canada, 2015 CAN Plastic Surgery 438 Gynaecology 1,321 Ophthalmology 4,635 Otolaryngology  981 General Surgery 4,495 Neurosurgery 472 Orthopaedic Surgery  3,259 Cardiovascular Surgery 269 Urology 4,974 Internal Medicine 3,959 Radiation Oncology 169 Medical Oncology 358 Residual * 20,288 Total 45,619 * The residual count was produced using the average provincial percent of patients receiving treatment outside of Canada and the residual count of procedures produced in Canada. . .

Source: Waiting Your Turn 2015, calculations by authors.

See Barua (2015) for information regarding procedures constituting each specialty. in the past 12 months outside Canada?”

Read the entire report and the tables . . .

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Canadian Medicare does not give timely access to healthcare, it only gives access to a waiting list.

To escape this waiting list, you must leave your country.



–Canadian Supreme Court Decision 2005 SCC 35, [2005] 1 S.C.R. 791

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