Emergency care for non-residents well-covered 

Large U.S. settlements at heart of malpractice insurance policy changes

Tourists may discover non-emergency medical care more difficult to find while visiting Whistler. Policy changes instituted by Canada’s largest provider of malpractice insurance actively discourage physicians from treating Americans and other foreigners in non-emergency situations.

The Canadian Medical Protective Association is advising its members against establishing "doctor-patient" relationships with non-residents due to the potential for costly lawsuits.

However, Whistler Health Care Centre, Town Plaza Medical Clinic and Care Point, will still be available to meet the emergency needs of foreign tourists. Emergency, or urgent care, provided by a walk-in clinic or hospital, is exempt from the policy changes.

Dr. Doug Blackman, Deputy Registrar at the B.C. College of Physicians, sees the CMPA policy changes as having no practical negative changes for visitors to Whistler.

"People who need urgent care, who have an acute illness or an injury are still going to get quality treatment," says the former general practitioner.

Representing 95 per cent of Canadian doctors, the CMPA provides, medico-legal advice as well as client defence and awards in malpractice cases.

The average award in a Canadian malpractice suit is $300,000; in the U.S. the figure is closer to $1 million, with settlements running as high as $15 million. The new policies make the CMPA non-culpable for any costs a member may experience from a lawsuit originating outside of Canada.

The organization will, however, "generally extend assistance" to doctors who treat non-residents providing patients signs a waiver promising to only sue in Canada if problems arise from treatment.

The cost of malpractice insurance in Canada vary from $500 to $50,000 per year, in contrast the U.S. premiums run between $100,000 to $200,000, thanks in part to high settlements and the increasing numbers of lawsuits.

The impact of astronomical awards and the ever-increasing volume of lawsuits has been negative in terms of patient care in the U.S. A 2003 study by the Texas Medical Association showed that two-thirds of participants claimed that because of "the climate in which they practice medicine (doctors) have been forced to deny or refer high-risk cases."

Malpractice suits in Canada have been on the decline since 1999, when 1,354 lawsuits were completed. However, Dr. Blackman points out that the statistics may not tell the full story of the extent of malpractice suits in Canada.

"The more egregious things are often settled out of court, with non-disclosures in place to keep them from getting in the media," he contends.

Dr. Tom DeMarco, spokesman for the Whistler Health Care Centre, was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.


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