I recently came across the 2017 Bloomberg Global Health Index, which ranks 163 nations to determine the world’s healthiest countries. This ranking is based on several variables, such as life expectancy, health risks, and causes of death. As a Canadian, I was naturally confident that our nation would be ranked somewhere among the top 10. To my surprise however, we didn’t even crack the top 15. Canada was number 17 on this list!
Like my fellow Canadians, I often pride myself on our universally available healthcare system and believe it to be amongst the best in the world. Yet, this ranking reveals that we may not be doing as well as some of us might have hoped – certainly, not as well as I had hoped. So, what are we are missing in the Canadian health equation that 16 other countries are doing better?
First, let me present you with a list of the 20 healthiest countries in the world according to this Index. While Canada does make the list for the top 20 healthiest countries, the UK and the US, however, do not – they are at number 23 and 34, respectively. In comparison, Australia is ranked at number 5 internationally.
As you can all see, topping the list is Italy, a country that has been struggling due to an economic slump. In Canada, the economy, to a large degree, determines the extent of our healthcare coverage by either funding or defunding medical expenses. As a result, Medicare only covers about 70% of medical expenditure in Canada, with the remaining costs paid either out-of-pocket or through private insurance. According to a 2014 Commonwealth Fund report, Canada lags behind other nations with regards to access to care and electronic health records, and is somewhere in the middle for health care costs and health outcomes. This is important as Canada’s rank fell due to its poor outcomes for cholesterol, diabetes, and mental health care among other concerns.
In Italy, we see another story unfold. Italy established its universal healthcare system in 1978. Overall, it seems like the Italian approach to healthcare has proven to be much more effective, with its emphasis on primary healthcare, low rates of avoidable hospitalization, and a high level of care provided by its healthcare workers. Compared to Canadians, Italians are 45.5% less likely to spend money on healthcare and 29.72% less likely to die in infancy.
Rather than constantly comparing our healthcare system with that in the US, which often reassures us that we are doing better, we should pay attention to the countries that are outperforming us. Only by learning what others are doing better than us will we learn improve to our own healthcare system and the health outcomes of all Canadians.