16 Nov 2009 Canadian Patient Flies to India for Immediate Care
An ailing hip caused Canadian Raghav Shetty so much pain that he could barely walk. Instead of being one of 25,000 patients in Calgary waiting up to two years for surgery or a scan, Shetty traveled to India, his native country, for immediate partial hip replacement surgery.
An ailing hip caused Canadian Raghav Shetty so much pain that he could barely walk. Instead of being one of 25,000 patients in Calgary waiting for surgery or a scan (up to a two-year wait), Shetty traveled to India, his native country, for immediate partial hip replacement surgery.
Flying to a faraway country for medical care did not seem too outrageous an idea for Canadian Raghav Shetty – at least, in comparison to the alternative. The 61-year-old Calgary, Alberta man’s bum hip had effectively immobilized him. Yet he faced several years of waiting in distress for surgery in Canada’s “universal” Medicare health system.
Shetty had developed severe osteoarthritis in his left hip joint. He was in so much pain that, even with the aid of painkillers, each step was tormenting.
“I’m in extreme pain,” he admitted. “I’m stuck at home, I can’t work. It is difficult for me to provide financial support to my family and the quality of my life is very bad.”
“He can barely walk. He drags his legs everywhere he goes,” added daughter, Shilpa Shetty.
Shetty, a 20-year resident of Calgary, discovered the wait for partial hip replacement surgery would be up to two years. At the time, in 2004, some 25,000 patients were on waiting lists for surgery or diagnostic scans in Calgary’s hospitals.
Facing a bedridden wait on Medicare, Shetty and his wife, Prema, looked elsewhere for quicker treatment. They discovered a private facility in Chennai, India offering immediate care. The entire out-of-pocket cost for the operation and for both to fly to India would be $15,000 (CAD), but the couple believed waiting up to two years for care locally was not a realistic option.
“I had no choice but to try elsewhere for my surgery due to the long waiting period and severe pain in my hip joint,” Shetty said. “I could not walk more than a few meters. Under these conditions, waiting for one to two years was simply not possible for me.”
In September 2004, the Shettys traveled to Apollo Specialty Hospital for a successful five-hour surgery. Shetty, an Indian immigrant, said returning to his native country for a medical procedure was not something he would have considered had it not been for the excessive wait.
“Of course, my first choice would have been always Canada,” he said. “However, in recent years, the waiting period for major surgeries is too long for patients suffering from severe pain and serious medical conditions.”
Daughter Shilpa objected to the tedious wait her father would have endured if he stayed in Canada. “We’ve given up on our health care system. Why don’t they understand that some people are in so much pain that they just can’t wait?” she asked. “We don’t have any options and can’t wait anymore.”
Though the long wait forced Shetty to look outside Canada, the health department in the province of Alberta rejected his claim for reimbursement for his care in India. Generally, the government reimburses only such patients who go abroad when treatment is unavailable locally or if the patient’s life would be in jeopardy while waiting.
As published in a 2007 Fraser Institute survey, an estimated 5,029 people in Alberta were waiting for hip or knee replacement surgery as of March 31, 2007. According to the same report, nationwide some “estimated 523,600 Canadians had difficulties getting to see a specialist, 200,000 had difficulties getting non-emergency surgeries, and 294,800 had difficulties getting selected diagnostic tests.”
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