Health Care Reform

Health care reform, driven by a desire to contain costs, has become a common feature of the Canadian political landscape in the 1990s. Indeed, many believe that it has already had a significant impact on the quality of the Canadian health care system. This has led to speculation concerning the legal responsibility of the various health care decision makers for the reduction, perceived or otherwise, in the standard of health care services. For instance, can a patient who believes that he or she has been injured as a result of a cost containment initiative successfully sue his or her physician, health authority or government?

While there have been very few cases directly on point, at the current time Canadian courts seem uncomfortable allowing economic exigency to stand as an excuse for substandard health care (ie, the paramount duty of the physician is to the patient, not to the health care system). However, as cost containment becomes an increasingly common feature of our health policy, Canadian courts may find it difficult not to incorporate economic considerations in their assessment of medical malpractice cases.