Inbound medical tourism could draw resources away from public system, say doctors

April 1, 2014

TORONTO – Sunnybrook Hospital’s decision to treat international medical tourists could have detrimental implications for Canada’s public system, according to a group of physicians.

“Allowing international patients to pay for medically necessary services raises critical questions,” said Dr. Ryan Meili. “Although Sunnybrook insists these patients will only be considered when resources are not needed domestically, there is simply no way of guaranteeing that tourists won’t be given precedence over Canadians in the public system, whether now or in the long term.”

Considering the potential impact this practice could have on publicly-funded Medicare, the lack of open dialogue is troubling. Groups such as the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario and the Medical Reform Group could contribute to a broader understanding of the issue and its complexities, especially in relation to potential effects on domestic health care. Such organizations have not been engaged in any way.

Sunnybrook’s international patient program was approved late last year, and has since welcomed two patients for radiotherapy – one for breast cancer and the other for prostate cancer, with Sunnybrook charging approximately $60,000 and $20,000 respectively.

The hospital follows the example set by Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) – comprised of Toronto General, Toronto Western, Princess Margaret, and Toronto Rehab – in the practice of treating inbound medical tourists, although the UHN refrains from marketing internationally.

“Treating international patients is a substantial undertaking, and our concern is that this will eventually draw on expertise and administrative efforts that could be utilized elsewhere, including the improvement of our own system,” said Dr. Meili. “We are certainly aware of the current lack of support for Ontario hospitals, and know that this has been exacerbated by the federal government’s failure to transfer the agreed-upon funding to the province. However, these are issues that should be addressed by strengthening and protecting the public system, not by introducing programs with the potential to undermine it.”

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For more information:
Chad Andrews, Canadian Doctors for Medicare
T: 416-351-3300
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