Just Enough Research

79.3% of all statistics are created at the moment of citation. (margin of error +/- 4%)

Last Sunday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer reprinted a New York Times column written a few days earlier by Nicholas Kristof. Forum section. Page 2, directly beneath the Darcy cartoon. The great thing about appearing on the Opinion Page is that reporting and facts are optional. Mr. Kristof is convinced that our health care pales in comparison to the incredible medicine practiced in Canada, Great Britain or even Slovenia.

I was about to put this article away in favor of a better use of my time, Sudoku, when I saw the claim that Canadians live longer than Americans (his word, not mine) after a kidney transplant. That got my attention.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not going to disparage the Canadian health care system. I’m not a huge fan, but there aren’t Canadians dying in the streets. So, is post-kidney transplant care significantly better in Canada than here in the US? Possibly, but it just seemed too easy. I had the feeling that Mr. Kristof did just enough research.

Let’s start with the source of this information. Mr. Kristof doesn’t cite his source, but a quick GOOGLE search turns up Nicholas Skala, a staff person for Physicians for a National Health Program. Mr. Skala wrote his report for the organization dedicated to single payer health care in 2006. It has been cited numerous times by publications such as The Washington Monthly. One of Mr. Skala’s assertions was that kidney transplants were more numerous in Canada since they didn’t have the profit motive of keeping patients on dialysis. I read that twice and knew that I needed to do more research.

Population as of November 9, 2009
United States – 307,897,484
Canada – 33,838,720 about 11%

Kidney transplants performed in 2007 (last data available)
United States – 16,517
Canada – 1,200 about 7%

Not more, but less. So are US citizens 50% more likely to need a kidney transplant? Does the Canadian system cherry pick who is eligible for a kidney? There are actually several issues involved.

1. I found the actual 2005 study which was published in the American Journal of Transplantation in 2006. The study compared post-transplant mortality among adult recipients between January 1, 1991 and December 31, 1998. Mr. Kristof’s article made this appear to be current information. It is not.
2. Canada did not have a national registry until this year. They have had a real problem matching donors to potential recipients. This will help.
3. 23.2% of the kidney recipients in the study were African Americans as opposed to 2.6% of the Canadians. As the study indicated, factors such as diabetes mellitus, age, and the number of donors of African descent may have an impact in the outcome of the report. The authors noted the lack of detailed donor data from CORR (Canadian Organ Replacement Register).
4. Is there equal access to kidney transplants in Canada? The answer is “No” according to Dr. Jeffrey A. Zaltzman of Toronto’s St. Michael’s hospital. That was published August 29, 2006. “No” wrote the Calgary Herald on November 9, 2009 when they noted that “the disparities in the medical treatment received by First Nations people compared with other Canadians have attracted growing national and international attention.”

I don’t have the research staff of the New York Times. Felicia, my secretary, and I spent a couple of hours following links on GOOGLE. I learned far more than I ever wanted to know about kidney transplants, everything from how much dialysis costs (a fortune, up to $150,000 a year) to how few transplant facilities there are in Canada.

What I learned is that Canadians who live near a major hospital and have the good fortune of a live donor have an excellent chance of survival. There are a lot more facilities and options here in the United States. In other words, the Peace Bridge is not going to be bumper to bumper with Americans searching for kidneys.



One more thing. The Kristof article also stated that “An African-American in New Orleans has a shorter life expectancy that the average person in Vietnam or Honduras. Found that too! The original report was posted on WWLTV’s website on September 18th. The Update was posted on October 22nd. The doctors noted that African-Americans are sicker longer, have lower incomes and a large portion are uninsured. It was crime and the murder rate, however, that got the most focus. Dr. Kevin Stephens, the director of the city’s health department said “All of these things work together. We just can’t fix health care. You’ve got to fix education. You have to fix the crime. Your have to fix the entire community.” It was also noted “that whites in Louisiana, on average, will live four years longer than African Americans in the state, but even that is still lower than the US average.”

I’m sorry this was so long. I just think that the details are important.

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6 Responses to Just Enough Research

  1. Mary Louisa L'Hommedieu says:

    Why should facts get in the way, anyway? Nice work bringing us up to speed, Dave.

    I read a great article on the new health care plan(s) in the December 09 issue of Harper's. I can't link you to it,though — you will have to buy the magazine or subscribe online. Either way, I think you would appreciate it.

  2. DonnaM says:

    Hi Dave:

    I'm very impressed by your critical thinking and research skills. I think they need you in Washington.

  3. Dave Cunix says:

    You are too kind. I suspect that if I was in Washington, they would say that I was needed in Beachwood or someplace else.

  4. millerd10 says:

    You are too funny. You'd have my vote! Can you please move over to my Congressional district?

  5. Michael Corcoran says:

    Nick Skala passed away on Aug 9, sadly.

  6. Dave Cunix says:

    I never met Mr. Skala, but I am sorry to learn of his passing.
    We sometimes forget the human element in all of this. We may disagree with people, but I hope that we always give everyone the respect they deserve.

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