Canada’s low-tech health care in a high tech world

According to a recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publication, Canada has about 60 per cent as many MRI machines and CT scanners – considered basic tools of healthcare today – per population as the average OECD nation, lags well behind some of the leaders and Medicare is equally poor at delivering access to more advanced and cutting-edge technologies. So it should come as no surprise that Canadians often endure long wait times for access to the service these machine offer, says Nadeem Esmail, of the Fraser Institute.

However, a lack of access to medical technologies is not the only technology-related failure of Canada's healthcare system, says Esmail, it also performs poorly when it comes to keeping the current stock of technologies up to date; the limited inventory of technology currently in place is old, outdated and unsophisticated:

  • At the start of 2007, 30 per cent of Canada's hospital-based MRI scanners, 46 per cent of Canada's angiography suites, 42 per cent of Canada's cardiac catheterization labs and 42 per cent of Canada's lithotripters were past their recommended lifecycles.
  • A number of Canada's CT scanners are basic and unsophisticated models that are incapable of providing the higher quality images, broader range of services and less invasive screening options that their newer and more sophisticated counterparts provide.
  • A significant proportion of Canada's medical technologies – between 20 and 60 per cent – were operating without the ability to digitally store images.

    The rarity of advanced medical technology in Canada is not the result of a lack of spending. To the contrary, Canada maintains one of the developed world's most expansive universal access healthcare programmes; between 2002 and 2004, the federal government gave provinces $3 billion to improve access to medical technologies.

    Simply put, Canadians are often unable to access the latest advances in care – even from the technologies that are available to them, says Esmail.

    Source: Nadeem Esmail, Low-tech care in a high-tech world, Fraser Forum, October 2008.

    For more on Health Issues:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 18 November 2008
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