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MRI choice for patients has grown substantially

Should you be allowed to use your own money to try to improve your health?

A quarter century ago, it was a controversial decision for the Alberta government to say “yes” to that question when it came to allowing private MRI scans.

At the time, patients could either wait ages for the government to provide an MRI scan or leave the country and pay for a faster scan; private clinics were not allowed to sell scans to the public in Canada.

But all that changed when the Alberta government decided to allow a private MRI clinic to open in Calgary. Some critics, many of whom had a comfortable monopoly on health care, fearmongered about the policy change, arguing that giving patients choice would “undermine” the government’s health care system.

Well, that was 1993. SecondStreet.org decided to see where things are at today in Canada.

What we found was that a majority of provinces now allow patients the same choice Albertans have had for over a quarter of a century – wait for the government’s health care system to provide an MRI scan at no charge or pay out-of-pocket at a private clinic.

British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick now allow private clinics to sell MRI scans to the public. (Note: The current B.C. government is in court trying to clamp down on private health care options in the province.)

Ontario outright bans private MRI scans, while Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland do not yet have private clinics that sell scans to the public (proponents would need to apply for approval).

In the case of Ontario, restrictive health care policies are still pushing patients – as well as some doctors and capital investment – from Canada to outside the country.

For example, one Ontario resident, Jocelyn, described to SecondStreet.org how she has taken her son and a parent to Buffalo for MRI scans in the past. Why? Because the procedures are provided much more quickly.

According to the Ontario government’s own data on MRI scans, less than 40 percent of patients are scanned within the target time frame set by specialists and health care administrators.

Jocelyn is not alone when it comes to leaving the country for faster health care. Statistics Canada data obtained by SecondStreet.org shows that Canadian patients made over 217,000 trips outside the country in 2017 specifically for health care.

And each time a patient leaves the country for health care, their money helps create jobs and opportunities in other countries – not that you can blame a patient for trying to improve their health.

It should also be pointed out that each time a Canadian patient visits a private clinic for an MRI scan, they’re one less person waiting in line in the government’s system – shortening the waiting list for everyone else.

There are many countries with universal health care systems that perform better than Canada. For example, Australia, New Zealand and Norway all provide better results according to the progressive Commonwealth Fund’s 2017 study on health care systems. What do those countries have in common? They operate public health care systems alongside private health care clinics. 

It should be clear that private health care doesn’t “undermine,” public health care. Not only does it provide patients more choice, it reduces the strain on the public system.

 

Colin Craig is the President of SecondStreet.org, a new Canadian think tank.

This column was published in the January 7, 2020 edition of the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Edmonton Sun and Calgary Sun.

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