Dental work in Mexico, a facelift in Barbados, or perhaps a knee replacement in India.
These are just a few of the many options for surgeries available around the world to those who can afford to pay out of pocket.
The ethics, equality and safety of what is known as "medical tourism" comprise a complicated subject of debate, however.
In response to this, a team of researchers at Simon Fraser University is studying the topic to help find some answers to offer Canadian patients considering cross-border health care.
Valorie Crooks, a health geographer at SFU, recently received a $635,000 salary award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research for an eight-year period to further her research in this area.
Her qualitative study focuses on Canadian medical tourism in Barbados, Guatemala, Mexico and India. Crooks hopes to gain a better understanding of the impacts of medical tourism for both Canada and the destination country.
By next year, she and her team of researchers hope to have a tool guide for Canadians who are considering medical tourism to help them carefully consider their options.
"I can fully appreciate why people ask me, 'Is medical tourism right or wrong, is it good or bad?' and the thing is, it's a very complex practice," said Crooks. "It's a multi-billion dollar industry. You have flows of patients from countries in the global south to the global north and vice-versa, and within the global north and the global south. It is extremely hard to make a blanket statement."
The research, Crooks said, is not meant to come up with a simple answer to all of the necessarily complex questions related to this industry, but rather to gather information and provide preliminary statistics on medical tourism for patients and policymakers in Canada.
There are many reasons patients have for travelling abroad for health care, including cost, wait times, and availability of treatments not offered in their home countries, Crooks noted.
Susan Beech is a retired Canadian who spends half the year in Cozumel, Mexico, where she and her husband run a tour company.
She said she would, "totally recommend it to anyone," when it comes to getting surgery in her adopted country.
For years, Beech had serious chronic sinus infections, further complicated by a deviated septum, and was at one point needing antibiotic injections daily to deal with the problem.
When she was told by her Canadian doctor she would likely have to wait up to eight months to get an initial consultation with a specialist here, she decided to pursue treatment in Mexico. There, she was seen by a specialist within days and was able to have surgery done two weeks later.
That was in February, and since then, her sinus problems have disappeared, she said.
"I can breath, I can smell, I can taste food again. I sleep better," she said, adding that with a lifestyle that involves a lot of time in the ocean, she is delighted to be able to swim again. Beech paid $4,000 for the surgery, plus an extra $1,000 for travel expenses.
She said she feels it was a win-win for herself as well as for the Canadian medical system.
"We've saved MSP definitely $10,000," she said. "And hope-fully we may get something back on our taxes."
While some might consider their choice to be a cost-saving measure for the Canadian healthcare system, this is not always the case, as it turns out.
Eric Cadesky, a family physician who lives in Burnaby, has a patient who elected to go to Asia for a cosmetic procedure she paid for herself, but came back to Canada with a resulting infection. She required emergency surgery and follow-up antibiotics, which were paid for through the medical services plan.
Cadesky said he neither encourages nor discourages his patients from pursuing medical treatment outside Canada, but he recommends anyone considering treatment elsewhere first consult with their doctor here and stay in touch while away.
He has treated at least 20 patients who have received medical treatment overseas and seen both positive and negative outcomes once they return to Canada. But Cadesky said he can understand why patients choose to leave the country for certain procedures, such as surgery to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome.
"As much as people say there is not a two-tiered system here, there certainly is when you consider that Washington State is 40 minutes away, and there are plenty of people in Bellingham and Seattle that are more than willing and happy to accept our Canadian dollars to perform these procedures," he said. "Because they're quite simple procedures; they just require resources. And for anyone who's willing to pay for these resources, they're available."
With the myriad questions about the ethics both within the Canadian system and in accessing other nations' resources, Crooks is hopeful she and her team will soon be able to offer a better picture of what this industry actually looks like.
One of the main challenges is simply getting the statistics because the Canadian government does not require travellers to report their specific reason for leaving the country.
Crooks said it would be useful for her research to have this data.
"In the kind of work that I do, and the things that I know about this, I would very much advocate for us trying to (get) more information," she said.
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