Surgery backlog prompts Winnipeg man to get knee replacement overseas

WINNIPEG –

A Manitoba man who got surgery overseas is calling on the government to consider sending people abroad for surgeries amid a pandemic fuelled backlog.

Max Johnson is once again walking around pain-free.

After being on a waitlist in Winnipeg for more than a year, the 65-year-old decided to travel out of the province to get a knee replacement done.

“As a result of the waiting lists in Manitoba that now seem indefinite, I decided that rather than face growing and increasing pain every day, I would look at an opportunity to have it done outside the province,” said Johnson.

After researching local options, Johnson went to the Nordorthopaedics Clinic in Kaunas, Lithuania. He said the experience was great and happened almost immediately.

“From the time that I first started talking to them, it was under three months before I came back to Winnipeg after the procedure, and they had also offered me a surgery block three weeks after I started talking to them,” he said.

Johnson paid just over $14,000 for the surgery and two weeks of rehabilitative therapy.

According to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which manages the Canadian Joint Replacement Registry, the cost of the procedure would have cost the province about $7,000 more to do in Manitoba.

CIHI said 2,185 Manitobans received knee replacements during the 2018-2019 data year.

When asked about Manitoba’s surgery backlog at a news conference Friday morning, Premier Heather Stefanson said the health minister is working on it.

“It’s not just a problem to Manitoba; it’s across the country. Obviously, COVID has created these problems and I think the minister of health is working diligently with partners and the health care system to address these issues,” she said.

In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Health and Seniors Minister Audrey Gordon said addressing the surgical and diagnostic backlog is a top priority. They added more will be announced next week.

As for Johnson, he said the province should consider sending surgery patients abroad if they can’t accommodate them within a reasonable period.

“If you are willing to go, you are able to go to a clinic outside Manitoba at a cost that is going to save the Manitoba government money and remove you from the waiting list, putting another place on the list for somebody who can’t go outside the province, I think that makes a lot of sense.”

A GROWING TREND

Josef Woodman, the CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, an info and consulting service specializing in medical tourism, said it’s a growing industry.

“We expect to see nothing but growth figures for medical tourism, especially with the growth of telehealth. People have become a lot more comfortable with remote health,” said Woodman.

Woodman said cost is a much more common reason for medical tourism, but waitlists are still a factor.

He said savings can be between 50 and 70 per cent when travelling for medical care.

Woodman did note that searching for the best deal isn’t the best way to plan a trip.

“You want to avoid the lowest cost because that’s almost sure to get you in some trouble,” he said.

“Looking at a facility that’s offering 80 or 90 per cent savings, you may want to look again very hard at the credentials of the clinic and the qualifications of the specialists serving that clinic.”

If picked right, Woodman said the quality of care is very high.

“In my experience, equal or better, and that’s only if you choose the top clinics,” he said.

For those considering medical tourism, Woodman said patients should do a lot of research before going.

“We always tell people they need to thoroughly vet the country and the destination,” he noted.

“The main thing folks need to do is do their homework on the clinic, and if they aren’t willing to do that, then to find an agency that is reputable.”

According to Woodman, the most common trip for Canadians is travelling to Mexico for dental work. 

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