As the health care debate heats up, I remain amazed as to how many people have such strong negative feelings about the American healthcare system. Usually these same people point to the Canadian system of socialized medicine as the pinnacle of success in healthcare delivery and complain that we need to implement something much more akin to what our northern neighbor is doing.

However, with very few exceptions, most of these people have most likely never had to seek regular health care in Canada, or any other country for that matter. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from having very strong and vocal opinions, but that’s an issue for different time.

Coincidentally, I just completed my yearly physical and my doctor decided it would be best if I underwent an ultrasound of my kidneys. Nothing too serious, but because traces of blood were found in my urine (I know, too much information) he thought it best to rule out the possibility of stones or possibly a cyst.

Anyway, I saw my doctor yesterday and will be having the ultrasound procedure this Friday, four days later. This reminded me of a situation from last year, where I was experiencing very severe and very regular headaches. My regular doctor referred me to a neurologist, who then decided that I should have an MRI, MRA, and MRC. This all took place in a span of 10 days, and could have been over an even shorter period of time had my schedule permitted. About five years ago I woke up the morning after a basketball game with a very swollen left knee. In less than two weeks time, I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon, had an MRI, and then had a torn meniscus repaired via arthroscopic surgery.

Now if any of this had happened to me while I was living in Canada, things would have been a bit different. In October of 2006, the Fraser Institute released a study regarding the wait time for medical treatment in Canada. In general, the amount of time Canadians have to wait for surgical or other therapeutic treatment (i.e. the time between referral from a general practitioner and treatment) is about 18 weeks. The shortest time was about 15 weeks, while the longest was almost 26 weeks.

The average wait time between referral by a general practitioner and consultation with a specialist was almost 9 weeks, with the longest being almost 12 weeks. Adding insult to injury, the wait time between specialist consultation and treatment was about 9 weeks.

Had I been in Canada when my left knee ballooned, I would have waited 40 weeks from my referral to my actual surgery. I’m not sure whether this 40 week period includes the wait for an MRI, which is between eight and 28 weeks.

As far as my ultrasound scan is concerned, I would be waiting on average three weeks longer if I was in Canada.

We do not have a perfect system here. However, waiting 40 weeks between tearing my meniscus and having it surgically repaired is not an option that most Americans would find comforting. Nor is having your neurologist express concern over a potential vascular incident in your brain, but having to wait at least eight weeks for an MRI in order to determine precisely what has occurred. And, if neurosurgery is necessary, waiting and additional 32 weeks before that could take place. Or if it’s determined that you need radiation therapy to treat your cancer, you’ll have to wait at least five weeks before it can commence.

Is this the sort of healthcare system we really want? I don’t think so.

[This article can also be found at Release The Hounds!]

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