Canadian Medicine is Sick: MRI? Go to the Back of the 4 Mo. Line in Ontario, Even With Brain Tumor
First Lesson of Economics: We live in a universe of scarcity, and scare goods must be rationed efficiently.
First lesson of Politics and Canadian Medicine: Ignore the first lesson economics.
According to the first lesson of economics, scare goods MUST be rationed somehow. The most efficient way to ration scarce goods is with money - as crude as it sounds, it works, and in some cases it even saves lives, as this post illustrates (keep reading). The alternative is to ration scarce goods with time, e.g. waiting in line to buy "cheap goods" in the Soviet Union, or waiting in line to buy "cheap gas" during the 1970s in the U.S. under price controls. When it comes to critical health care, some people will die waiting in line when time is used to ration service.
For example: how to ration MRIs? In Canada, MRIs are "free," so the scarce service must be rationed by waiting in line (time), with waits from 4.5 to 6.5 months in some Canadian provinces like Ontario and Newfoundland (see chart above, click to enlarge). In the U.S. we ration MRIs with money, and there really are no documented waiting times for American - do a Google search for "MRI waiting times in the U.S." and you'll find nothing. Just like there are really no waiting times to have your oil changed or brakes fixed, scarce services which are rationed with money.
Exhibit A: I had my first MRI last week in the Flint, Michigan area because of prolonged neck and shoulder pain. From the time I left my initial appointment at my doctor's office to my scheduled MRI appointment, it was only 24 hours, i.e. I was able to schedule an MRI the very next day! When I asked if that was typical, the answer was yes, many MRIs can be scheduled within 24 hours, and certainly within a week.
My case was fairly routine and I was still able to get an MRI within 24 hours in the U.S. Compare that to the experience of Canadian citizen Lindsay McCreith, who was told in 2006 that he probably had a brain tumor. His case was an emergency and he needed an MRI fast, but the wait time for a "free" MRI was 4.5 months in Ontario, and it's illegal to purchase a private MRI in Ontario. So he was told to get to the end of the MRI line with his suspected brain tumor and wait 135 days for his free MRI.
What to do? Lindsay contacted Timely Medical in Vancouver, a three-year old private medical broker in Canada, which got him an MRI the next day across the border in Buffalo, NY. Result? As suspected, he did indeed have a brain tumor the size of a golf ball. McCreith then was able to schedule brain surgery within a week in the U.S., surgery that would have taken eight months in Canada -- if Lindsay had still been alive.
View a video clip here of Lindsay McCreith's ordeal with Canadian medicine, as he and his wife explain how U.S. medical care probably saved his life.
Read a recent commentary "Uh-Oh Canada," which inspired this post, along with my personal experience about my first MRI in the U.S.