The Current

Could medical tourism be the golden ticket for Canadian hospitals?

Major Canadian hospitals have always made space for humanitarian medical and surgical help for those from beyond our borders. Today, we're asking about those who also create a revenue stream through private treatments from wealthy or well-insured foreign patients. A good way to raise cash for hospitals? Or the road to two-tiered health care?...
Major Canadian hospitals have always made space for humanitarian medical and surgical help for those from beyond our borders. Today, we're asking about those who also create a revenue stream through private treatments from wealthy or well-insured foreign patients. A good way to raise cash for hospitals? Or the road to two-tiered health care? 

When we talk about medical tourism in this country, most people assume we're talking about Canadian patients -- not providers. And while it is true that some Canadians travel abroad because of long wait times or to get access to specialists and new technology... some hospitals in Canada have quietly been offering care to foreign patients -- for a price.

This week, Globe and Mail health reporter Kelly Grant reported that Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre approved a plan for an "international patient program" in order to raise revenue. Other hospitals in Ontario have also been treating foreign patients for a fee, but reporter Kelly Grant says this new pilot program at Sunnybrook features one key difference.

I suppose the big difference would be in how the two hospitals frame it. When I spoke with the chief administrative officer at Sunnybrook, he was fairly forthcoming when I asked, 'What's different here?' He said, 'The difference is that we are actively soliciting patients with an eye to raising revenue.' UHN president Bob Bell insisted that they don't actively solicit although they are raising a fair amount of money doing this regardless.Globe and Mail Health Reporter Kelly Grant

Bob Bell is the President & CEO of University Health Network which includes Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. We have reached him at his office in Toronto.


The Current invited a spokesperson from Sunnybrook, including the Chair of its Board of Directors to talk to us, but it declined.


Many hospitals in other countries provide health care to foreign patients as a means to raise their profile and revenue. One study found Britain's National Health Service earned the equivalent of about $65 million Canadian in 2010 from medical tourists. Some of those patients could have been from Canada.

According to the Fraser Institute, more than $46,000 left the country to seek care in 2011. Despite it's growing popularity, experts are spilt on whether Canada should become a destination for medical tourism.


  • Dr. Robert Ouellet is a radiologist, former president of the Canadian Medical Association and a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute. He was in Miami, Florida.

What do you think? Should Canada become a destination for medical tourism?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Dawna Dingwall and Sujata Berry.

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