I don’t understand Canada

Medical malpractice makes sense in America. Here, everything costs money. Your insurance costs money, your doctor’s visit costs money, the trip to the hospital costs money, the tests cost money, and of course, your surgery costs money. The fact that a mistake made by a doctor which led to injury or death costs money here makes complete sense.

But I was surprised to find out that medical malpractice also exists in Canada, and I can’t quite wrap my head around it.

The Canadian system—love it or not—is not all about money, or at least, not all about a client paying money to a business. Yes, doctors get paid well in Canada, and money circulates through the healthcare system through taxes. But that lack of direct transaction makes it harder to believe there would be a need for medical malpractice suits.

I’m not suggesting Canadian doctors don’t make mistakes, perhaps just as many as (or more than) American doctors, but it seems that the punishment for such mistakes would more naturally be criminal charges or a loss of a license. The fact that money can be taken out of a public system just seems strange to me.

And yet, it seems that is just how things work up north. They also have punitive damages for the mistakes doctors make. I suspect they also have big payouts in the millions, just as we do here.

Again, though, I would think they probably get a lot of help from their generous social programs, so the need for big payouts is less necessary. For us, for instance, we don’t have a lot of compensation if a doctor maims someone and makes it impossible for them to work again. With such meager social programs, we need big payouts from insurance to make sure life can go on at all.

But in a country with more money coming in those social programs, do they need to get so much from their doctors?

Perhaps the amount is lower.

Honestly, I just find the whole thing confusing. Perhaps some of you well-versed Canadians reading this could explain the system better to me. It may be I’m missing some crucial detail that makes the whole thing make sense. Or maybe I’ll just never understand it.

What has me thinking about this so much, and why I am still dwelling on it, is that I find it interesting how different and yet how similar our two countries are. While America is more about personal responsibility and individualism, and Canada is far more about being a collective, cohesive and of course very pleasant and polite society, both countries seem to enjoy having the right to sue their doctors for every possible mistake. Maybe, despite everything we aren’t so different after all.