How medical tourism – a hot-button issue – could help Canada’s economy

Canada’s health-care system is regarded as a national treasure by many, though it has not fared well in recent international studies, in which it has taken hits for well-known problems, such as long wait times for emergency treatment and poor access to specialists.

This, despite the fact that as a country we spend a higher proportion of GDP on health care than some higher-scoring countries.

Even so, could Canada’s system be a bigger driver of the economy?

One way this could be done is through medical tourism, experts point out. Another way is exporting our expertise to developing countries. Both could generate funds for facilities that are often cash-strapped.

Medical tourism is a touchy subject, though. How can a hospital offer knee surgeries to foreigners with cash in hand when Canadians are waiting months for treatment?

“It makes sense to do it, but it is hard from a business-model perspective,” says Louis Thériault, vice-president of industry strategy and public policy with the Conference Board of Canada.

With $200-billion spent annually on health care, it is “an economic growth engine” that is not being revved to its full potential. Medical tourism introduced carefully could strengthen the country’s health-care network, the Conference Board argues.

It is clear that as a country, we are lagging as a preferred destination for foreign patients. Currently about 11 million people travel abroad for medical care, according to Patients Beyond Borders, with the global market growing at 15 to 25 per cent each year and estimated to be worth $38.5-billion to $55-billion.

As a country, Canada exports more patients than it brings in. Canadians travelling abroad for medical treatment spent $447-million in 2013 compared with $150-million spent by foreigners on health care in Canada in the same year, according to the Conference Board.

As Canada has sat back, Asian countries have promoted medical tourism for the past decade, making them the No. 1 destination for medical tourists. As well, countries in Latin America and the Middle East are building hospitals specifically to attract international patients…

Read full story at The Globe and Mail

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