Don’t Fear American Hospitals—Even in the Age of Ebola

As Canadian snowbirds start their annual migration from the snowbelt to the sunbelt, the emergence of Ebola and the ability of American hospitals to deal with this lethal disease are legitimate concerns, even though the number of patients treated in the US is minuscule. You can still count the “positives” on one hand.

To date, hospitals in Texas, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, and Maine have treated or diagnosed patients suspected of infection, or health care workers who have treated Ebola patients—most of whom have tested negative for the virus. But even with those small numbers, hospitals across the county have been forced to evaluate their infection control protocols in case the unimaginable happens. And that’s a good thing.

It may sound ironic, but the easiest place to contract viral, bacterial, or fungal infectious diseases is in hospitals.

Related: Ebola: Deadly, but Avoidable

One of the worst of these infections is a bacterium called Clostridium difficile (C. difficile, or C. diff). It attacks the lining of the intestines, causing a condition called Clostridium difficile colitis. Then there is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), an antibiotic-resistant virus. And we are also seeing a resurgence of Enterobacter aerogenes, a bacterial species found in water, soil, sewage, dairy products, and the feces of humans and other animals.

This is not meant to keep you away from the emergency room of a hospital when the unexpected strikes. Most Canadian ex-patients I know have praise for the staff, accommodations, and services provided in American hospitals. The reason for that is they want you to come back. They want your business. You are a customer. And because they want to keep you happy, they will get you out of the ER and into a room a lot faster than you can expect in Canada. Need an MRI? Later today.

What you can also expect is a more intensive level of care, especially through the early investigation and admissions process. This is part of the reason why hospital care in the US is as expensive as it is.

Related: Canadian Travellers + American Hospitals = Large Claims

But health care costs in Canada are not inexpensive either. They are certainly not “free,” as some of the anti-privatization advocates would have you believe.

According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), in 2011, the latest year for which complete data was available, Canadians spent $4,522 (USD) per capita on health care. It was the sixth-highest amount spent in the world, accounting for 11.2 per cent of Canada’s GDP. Americans spent $8,508 USD per head (adults and children included), accounting for 17.7 per cent of their GDP. Those figures are corrected for currency differentials and purchasing power parity—the kinds of things economists like to talk about.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which works with the OECD, when all the data for 2013 is in, Canadians will have spent approximately $5,988 on health care per capita. And that is in real Canadian dollars. That will make Canada the fifth- or sixth-highest-spending health care consumer in the world, and that will account for 11.2 per cent of the GDP.

Related: Warn Your Visitors About the High Cost of Medical Care in Canada

In forthcoming articles, we will be covering health care issues that you should be aware of as a consumer of American health care. Even though you have private travel health insurance, you need to be informed about how hospitals function and how you can benefit from that knowledge.

And here is a sample. Which US communities have the most expensive health care? The top two are Miami, Florida, and McAllen, Texas—home to Canadian winter Texans. Yes, right there in the Rio Grande Valley. Stick around and we’ll tell you why.

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