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An operating room in Mexico. An operating room in Mexico: Canadian taxpayers foot bill for botched procedures.

Canadians paying for medical tourism

Over half of surgery patients return home with complications

Up to 56% of Canadians who travel abroad for weight-loss surgery are returning home with complications, according to researchers in Canada.

Bariatric surgery is carried out to reduce the size of a patient’s stomach and prevent overeating, thereby alleviating obesity. The surgery usually involves stapling the stomach and fitting a sleeve over it to prevent its expansion, or moving the small intestine so that it bypasses most of the stomach.

The surgery is a popular option for obese patients who have particular trouble losing weight and the latter type, known as a gastric bypass, is covered by most Canadian public health care plans.

Studies suggest that long wait times for gastric bypass surgery in Canada – averaging five years – have prompted citizens to seek the surgery in low-cost clinics such as those in Mexico. But half those patients require further medical attention once they have returned home, and some of the complications that Canadian doctors face are life-threatening.

The average cost for a gastric bypass surgery in Alberta is CAD $14,000 whereas the cost to repair a botched surgery is estimated at $10,000. Alberta researchers point out that the province isn’t saving itself much money by limiting the number of bariatric surgeries.

In fact, they say, Alberta is spending at least $560,000 annually to treat complications as a result of this so-called trend of “bariatric medical tourism.”

Patients who travel to Mexico for bariatric surgery may spend as little as $7,800; the cost for the same surgery at a Canadian private clinic is nearly $20,000.

Complications are not necessarily the fault of the original surgeon; in fact, such problems may have arisen due to a lack of post-surgical care. Dr. Shahzeer Karmali, associate professor of surgery at the University of Alberta, says that the biggest problem Canadian surgeons face when fixing botched surgeries is the lack of medical records.

“There’s no real operative report,” she says. “We don’t know exactly what happened elsewhere. It’s hard for us to figure out what was done, and how to fix it.”

A report published by the Canadian Senate this month estimates that $7.1 billion is spent each year on obesity in terms of health care and lost productivity. Despite this cost and the fact that one in four Canadian adults are considered obese, the committee did not discuss providing more gastric bypass surgeries to patients.

Instead, they have focused on cutting food advertising to children, promoting active lifestyles and promoting public awareness of nutrition and the personal cost of obesity.

Karmali says, “The reality is, [obesity is] a significant problem and when people become severely obese it is very hard to ‘fix.’ Many medical practitioners agree that bariatric surgery is the best option in many obesity cases.”

Source: National Post (en)

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