The Province

What to consider when seeking foreign medical treatment


With thousands of Canadians seeking medical treatment outside of the country every year, it’s important to be prepared.

That’s where Janet Bristeir is trying to help.

Bristeir worked for decades as an operating room nurse in British Columbia. She became interested in educating people on treatment outside of Canada after attending a conference in 2010 on the ethics of medical tourism at Simon Fraser University. The university conducted research and studies on the topic through its Health Geography Department.

Bristeir went on to write three books to help Canadians who were opting for surgeries and treatment in foreign countries, also known as medical tourism.

“Over the years … I found there really wasn’t anything out there for people to reference,” she says.

Given that an estimated 63,549 Canadians sought non-emergency medical treatment outside of Canada in 2016, according to a 2017 Fraser Institute report, this is important informatio­n. Bristeir says it applies equally to people seeking dental work or more complicate­d procedures such as plastic surgery or gastric bypass surgery, a knee replacemen­t or assisted reproducti­on.

“We’re in this instant gratificat­ion society where you can pay $500, go somewhere and get something done very quickly. But what is the whole repercussi­on of that?”

People opt for foreign procedures for a number of reasons,

such as avoiding wait times in Canada, rejecting the advice of a doctor who doesn’t believe the patient is a good candidate for a procedure, or seeking treatment that isn’t available here.

Those seeking health care elsewhere need to be armed with solid informatio­n that can save their health or their life, Bristeir says, adding that she has yet to find an organizati­on or company that will offer medical insurance for foreign procedures, something to think about carefully.

But, she adds, there are patient advocates through specialize­d organizati­ons who can help guide people when they opt for medical tourism.

Here are five tips to follow when considerin­g foreign health care:


“Anyone can put up a website,” says Bristeir. Find out if the facility is legitimate by phoning them. The person who answers should speak the language you do. That will tell you they cater to internatio­nal clients.


The last thing you want when you’re getting health care or are in pain is not being able to communicat­e.


The facility should be domestical­ly accredited, meaning an independen­t third-party assessment of that organizati­on has approved its standards and best practices. There is also an Internatio­nal Canadian accreditat­ion service known as Accreditat­ion Canada (https://accreditat­ and the Joint Commission Internatio­nal, which is an American version. They visit the facility to ensure it adheres to current standards and determines that everyone working there has credential­s and documentat­ion.


Ask the facility for the contact details of a former patient who had the same procedure as you are considerin­g in the past couple of months. Bristeir says this shows transparen­cy and openness.


Be aware that regular travel insurance only covers someone going on holiday and will not cover a planned medical procedure. If something goes wrong and you must be transporte­d back to Canada, you need insurance to cover that.

 ?? — GETTY IMAGES FILES ?? People opt for foreign procedures for a number of reasons, such as avoiding wait times in Canada.
— GETTY IMAGES FILES People opt for foreign procedures for a number of reasons, such as avoiding wait times in Canada.

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