McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Canada’s universal health care system fares well in study

By Suzanne Morrison, Faculty of Health Sciences

Published: April 18, 2007
Dr. Gordon Guyatt and Dr. P. J. Devereaux
Dr. Gordon Guyatt (left), a professor of medicine at McMaster and Dr. P. J. Devereaux (right), an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster.

McMaster University researchers have found Canadians suffering from a wide range of serious illnesses fare at least as well if not better than their American counterparts, thanks to Canada’s universal health care system.

Their research appears in the inaugural issue of the new online medical journal, Online Medicine, which was officially launched today. (Wednesday, April 18)

Leading a team of 17 Canadian and American researchers, the McMaster researchers discovered that American patients don’t enjoy better health outcomes even though the United States for-profit health care system spends more than double per capita on health care - $7,129 per capita in the U.S. versus $2,956 (American dollars) in Canada.

Sifting from an initial 4,923 studies, the researchers analyzed 38 studies which met two specific criteria: The studies compared patients with identical diagnoses (cancer, heart attacks, chronic medical illnesses and surgical procedures) in Canada and the United States as well as health outcomes between patients in the two countries.

"The study shows in general that for most conditions Canadians are actually doing better in terms of health outcomes compared to Americans with the same diagnosis, even though we are spending half the money," said Dr. P. J. Devereaux, an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster and co-author of the study.

He added researchers found across all the studies, that the survival rate among Canadians was five per cent better.

Given recent increased calls for private health care in Canada, Devereaux hopes this study will remind Canadians "it makes no sense to be paying double the money and have no better outcomes."

Dr. Gordon Guyatt, a professor of medicine at McMaster and the study’s lead author, agrees. "The study should be a wake-up call to Americans."

Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, associate professor of medicine at Harvard University and another of the study’s co-authors, said Americans are paying inflated prices for inferior health care. "The extra $4,000 each American spends annually isn’t buying us better quality.  Most of it is pure waste, going for paperwork and insurance and drug company profits."

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