"Whether it is American senior citizens driving into Canada in order to buy cheap prescription drugs or Canadians coming to the U.S. for surgery in order to avoid long wait times, the relative merits of these two nations' health care systems are often cast in terms of anecdotes. Both systems are beset by ballooning costs and, especially with a presidential election on the horizon, calls for reform, but a recent study could put ammunition in the hands of people who believe it is time the U.S. ceased to be the only developed nation without universal health coverage.
Gordon H. Guyatt, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who coined the term "evidence-based medicine," collaborated with 16 of his colleagues in an exhaustive survey of existing studies on the outcomes of various medical procedures in both the U.S. and Canada. Their work appears in the inaugural issue of the new Canadian journal Open Medicine, and comes at a time when many in Canada are debating whether or not to move that country's single-payer system toward for-profit delivery of care. The ultimate conclusion of the study is that the Canadian medical system is as good as the U.S. version, at least when measured by a single metric—the rate at which patients in either system died.
"Other people knew that Canadians live two to two and a half years longer than Americans," says Steffie Woolhandler, an author on the paper and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, citing a phenomenon that many attribute to differences in lifestyle between the two countries. "But what was not known was once you got sick, was the quality of care equivalent in the two countries."
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