If this blog were your only source of news about Canada’s medical system, you would likely believe that Canadian hospitals and doctors’ offices are fundamentally dangerous places. This isn’t the case. As medical malpractice lawyers, we are regularly contacted by patients who have suffered serious injuries as a result of surgical errors, medication errors, misdiagnoses, and other preventable events. During this year’s Canadian Patient Safety Week (Oct. 28 – Nov. 1), the Canadian Patient Safety Institute reminded us that as many as 28,000 Canadians die each year as a result of preventable harm, and many thousands more are injured.

Our profession makes us hyper-aware of the issues within our healthcare system, and we believe patients should be aware of these issues, too. But that focus sometimes causes us to overlook what’s working; here are some issues that the Canadian healthcare system needs to address, and some areas it can be proud of.

What Doesn’t Work

 Hospital overcrowding is a serious concern for patients’ advocates and medical malpractice lawyers in Ontario. Overcrowding forces hospital staff to treat patients in non-traditional care settings, most often hallways, which increases risk of injury and infection. It also leads to overwork and exhaustion among hospital workers, which increases likelihood of error.

Overcrowding is unlikely to improve as the Canadian population ages. The baby boom generation – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are predicted to represent 25 per cent of the Canadian population by 2050, up from roughly 15 per cent in 2010. Preparing for this demographic shift is a major concern for healthcare experts.

More urgently, Canadian hospitals must address patient safety concerns. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) recently released data showing elevated rates of foreign objects left inside patients during surgery, obstetrical trauma, and pulmonary embolisms following hip and knee surgeries. In fact, Canada ranked below average in four out of five patient safety indicators compared to other members of the international Organization for Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Compounding each of these issues is the fact that Canada’s medical malpractice system makes it difficult for injured patients to access fair and reasonable compensation. Between the aggressive defence practices of the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) and the high standard of proof that plaintiffs must establish, justice can be hard to come by for victims of medical errors in Canada.

What Does Work

 Despite scoring poorly on several patient safety metrics, Canada was graded near or above average on 45 out of 57 total health indicators. We perform particularly well in cancer, heart disease, and stroke mortality; and breast, cervical, colon, and rectal cancer survival.

“Canada continues to perform better than other developed countries in many areas related to quality of care,” reads CIHI’s report. “Survival rates for breast and colon cancer are among the highest in the world, with 88% of women with breast cancer surviving over 5 years and 67% of Canadians with colon cancer surviving over 5 years. … We have also made improvements in reducing in-hospital deaths due to heart attacks and stroke; across the country, rates of these deaths have declined by more than 20% over the past 5 years. Another highlight is that more seniors in Canada (61%) receive a flu vaccine compared with the average in other OECD countries (45%).”

Universal access to healthcare is another positive. In theory, no Canadian should be denied healthcare based on his or her ability to pay for it. Although many members of remote and marginalized communities continue to struggle for access, the notion of universal healthcare continues to resonate in Canada. Seventy-three per cent of respondents to a 2018-19 online survey said universal health care was a “Very Important” source of personal or collective pride in Canada, more than the armed forces, the Canadian flag, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Contact an Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer

 If you have been injured in a medical setting in Canada, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team of medical malpractice lawyers can assess your claim and provide guidance and advice as you consider your legal options.

Greg Neinstein