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article imageCanadian doctor holds her own on country's health care waitlist

By Karen Graham     Mar 13, 2014 in Health
Canadians are waiting longer to see a specialist, undergo diagnostic tests or cancer treatments, as well as have elective surgery. This information was released in an annual report in 2013 by the Fraser Institute.
Yet, Dr. Danielle Martin, vice president of Medical Affairs at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, had to come to the defense of Canada's health care system during a forum on the defences of single-payer health care systems held by an obscure U.S. Senate sub-committee yesterday.
The forum was held by the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, meeting to discuss the challenges, many of them common to many countries, faced by health systems, as well as the policy solutions that could be realized by a comparison of the systems. Several countries sent representatives to take part in the forum, including experts from Taiwan, Denmark and France.
But the hearing soon turned into a heated exchange of words over supposed "deadliness" of Canada's health care system when ranking member, Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, asked Dr. Martin, “On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know?”
“I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all,” Dr. Martin retorted. But the Toronto physician was not out of the hot seat, yet. Senator Burr struck back a few minutes later with another question, pertaining to the number of Canadian doctors opting to leave the public health system in Canada.
“There are no doctors exiting the public system in Canada, and in fact we see a net influx of physicians from the United States into the Canadian system over the last number of years," Dr. Martin said, after apologizing for possibly being misunderstood in her opening testimony.
Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams’ controversial decision in 2010 to undergo heart surgery at a Miami hospital also came up in the meeting. Senator Burr wondered aloud at why Williams would want to go to the U.S. for heart surgery, rather than use a Canadian surgeon.
"It’s actually interesting, because in fact the people who are the pioneers of that particular surgery … are in Toronto, at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center, just down the street from where I work,” replied Dr. Martin. Senator Burr quickly shot back, saying that American consumers liked their health care system because they "judge quality, and they judge innovation."
But in all the remarks, back and forth between Dr. Martin and Senator Burr, the main focus was on the wait-times Canadians are burdened with. And that is something Dr. Martin was not very successful in defending. While Dr. Martin tried to make light of the questions being thrown at her, including a comment on how she had to wait 30 minutes just to get through the security check that morning, she had no good answers.
“Sometimes it’s not about the amount of resources you have, but rather about how you organize people in order to use your queues most effectively,” she said. “We believe that when you try to address the wait times, you should do it in a way that benefits everyone, not just people who can afford to pay.”
It was at this point that Dr. Martin was let out of the "hot seat," when Senator Burr turned his attention to questioning a Danish expert. But it was not before slinging a last barb at Dr. Martin, saying, “The American system has access to health care for everybody; it’s called the emergency room.”
In the Fraser Institute's annual report, “Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada,” published October, 28, 2013, the wait-time for in 2013 rose to 18.2 weeks, three days longer than in 2012. Twenty years ago, the average wait time for treatment in Canada was 9.3 weeks.
In the report, specific scenarios were described, such as waits to have surgery, now reaching over 39 weeks, to appointments for neurological consults, now an average of 17.4 weeks. Thankfully, the shortest wait-time was for cancer patients needing treatment, now only 3,5 weeks.
The report also estimates that on average, one out of every 34 Canadians “may be in pain, off work, or suffering from depression as they wait their turn for treatment.” In a statement, lead author of the report, Bacchus Barua, The senior health policy analyst for Fraser Institute said, "Canada is effectively reneging on its promise of universal health care for those citizens forced to endure these long waits. Simply putting someone on a list is not the same as providing necessary medical attention in a timely manner."
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