Friday, September 26, 2008

Canadian Medical Technology a Fraction of Other Countries

The Fraser Institute recently published an investigation on the adoption of Medical Technology in Canada. For example, the report states that the number of CT and MRI machines per 1 million persons is roughly 60% that of comparable countries. Adding insult to injury, roughly 25% of those are beyond their recommended lifecycle.

The central theme of the paper is that Canada lags behind other universal health countries in the number of core technology products like ultrasound, CT and MRI. We also have fewer leading edge technologies such as PET scanners, SPECT and certain minimally-invasive cardiology machines. This failing stands at odds to the amount that we spend on health care. Despite being near the back of the pack in technology we have one of the most expensive health care systems in the world.

As a practicing surgeon, I know that I am just as likely to make use of medical technology as counter parts in the United States because we have similar standards of care. In fact, I may be more likely to make use of them because there is no financial disincentive to the patient. The natural effect of fewer and outdated (slower) instruments’ are longer wait times and (arguably) worse care.

Lack of technology leads to less training (Canadians are sent abroad for PET training), longer waiting lists and fewer options. If the United States is being plagued by overuse of technology for medico-legal reasons then Canada is saddled with it's under use and lack of access. Current governments are trying to improve access with investments in medical technologies but it will be a decade before we can truly measure the effects. In the mean time, the inability to catch up to other countries will likely lead to the rapid privatization of diagnostic services. Only time will tell.

For an executive summary of the institute's findings click here. For the complete report click here (1.2 MB). One word of caution; the Fraser Institute is typically right-leaning and in favor of privatization which are also reflected in the discussion of this study.

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