Inbound Medical Tourism Comes Under Close Scrutiny

Inbound Medical Tourism Comes Under Close ScrutinyBy contrast, medical tourism into Canada. while on the rise, is faced with a number of challenges due to the publically funded nature of Canadian medical services. Many Canadian hospitals have been offering treatment for foreign patients, such as, for example, the Hospital for Sick Children, McGill University Health Centre, University Hospital Network (Toronto Western, Toronto General Princess Margaret Hospital) and Sunnybrook Hospital. Industry sources indicate that in Toronto alone the three hospitals and one rehabilitation clinic within the University Health Network treated 380 international patients from 2011-2014, while the Hospital for Sick Children treats about 200 patients annually. However, such arrangements are typically done on a case-by-case basis within hospital administrative circles and without open marketing of healthcare services to foreign patients.

This situation has received more public attention in 2014 when Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital began a pilot programme to openly accept international patients and market its services openly outside of the country, something that has not been openly done before. This approach is critical for many healthcare institutions with funding received from government budgets that has been reduced in recent years. The announcement and media spotlight, however, drew the attention of the provincial health ministry. The latter expressed concerns that opening up medical services to foreign patients will lead to public funds being directed towards treatment of such patients while, at the same time, displacing Canadians already subject to long waiting times. While inbound medical tourism has the potential to subsidise public costs, there is widespread objection on the grounds that this will lead to a two-tiered system and remove beds that could otherwise be used for Canadians. Hospitals reply that there is unused capacity in the system that is suited for international patients who are willing to pay the full cost of treatment.

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