What ordinary Canadians are doing to get health care

This UBC professor of Nursing is scouting the unexplored territory outside of Medicare. What’s your story?

Some time ago, I became interested in those Canadians who made the decision to seek medically necessary health care outside of Medicare and/or Canada. Sixty to eighty thousand people a year do this. Who are they and how can their information and experience inform the rest of us? From our point of view, these people are like scouts who have traveled to where most Canadians have not been – the unexplored territory outside Medicare.

While they ordinary Canadians in some sense, ranging from loggers to lawyers, they are also heroic figures. Against the background of horror stories about private medical care, these people took the risks required to go and find the health care that they needed which an indifferent and unresponsive system failed to provide.

Their stories need to be told.

I am their storyteller.

To gather material for a feature story entitled “I Can’t Wait: What Ordinary Canadians are doing to get Health Care”, I am conducting interviews and asking questions such as:

• Why did you decide to go outside Medicare?
• How did you know where to go?
• What did you have done?
• How much did it cost?
• Was it worth it?
• Could you afford it?
• What advice do you have for others who are waiting and for Canadian health care planners?

The early results of my survey and interviews are both surprising and compelling. For example, these health seekers have used a variety of different countries such as Germany, United States and India. But when asked to compare their health care experiences in Canada and their health care experiences in another country, they consistently used the same few phrases to describe care in non-Canadian sites: “There is no comparison; it was like another planet; they treat you like a person”.

Over and over I heard these words. What they meant was that they experienced impressively clean and pleasant facilities, they felt at ease because they were so consistently and well informed; and that all interactions were marked by kindness and respect.

To give just one example, Mimi from British Columbia needed both hips replaced. While she was on the waiting list here in Canada, she had one hip done in Bellingham. After a successful procedure and recovery, she returned to Canada and within months had the second hip done here. Here is part of the description of her Canadian experience:

“I went up to the hospital and there was a group of six of us all going in for hips or knees. And they showed us a video. I think there were three employees involved in that; one to show the video, one to talk to us and one to show us how to get on and off the bed. And when I went in on the morning of my surgery, I was taken to a room and I was left. Then another woman came in and pushed my bed down the hall where the beds were lined up along the corridor. No one talks to you. The anesthetist did come. But I never talked to the surgeon. He never came near me. They wheeled me into the operating room and gave me the injection in the spine. There were nurses running around and a lot going on, but nobody said a word, not a word. Nobody talks to you. In the other place, somebody was always there. In Bellingham, you are taken care of. Here, you are left”.