Principles of assistance

Treating non-residents of Canada

Originally published December 1998 / Revised August 2013

The following outlines the CMPA's principles of assistance for members who provide care to non-residents of Canada.

When Canadian physicians provide care to non-residents of Canada, there is an increased risk of medical-legal difficulties arising outside of Canada. The CMPA is not structured to assist with medical-legal difficulties that arise outside of Canada, or that result from care given outside of Canada. The CMPA generally assists members only in the event of difficulties arising in Canada as a result of professional work done in Canada. Members are also reminded that, as per the CMPA Bylaw, assistance extended to members is discretionary, based on the facts and circumstances of an individual case.

Member treats non-resident

Who is considered a non-resident of Canada?

For the purposes of these principles of assistance, a non-resident is:

  • an individual who is ordinarily a resident outside of Canada
  • an individual who is not living in Canada, and has never lived in Canada
  • an individual who has been residing outside of Canada for a number of years, and may have a residence, career, or family in the foreign country
  • an individual who ordinarily resides outside of Canada but who comes to Canada for vacation or work for temporary periods of time

Who is a resident of Canada?

An individual who lives in Canada on a full-time basis would generally be considered a resident of Canada.

There are occasions where individuals who do not currently live in Canada on a full-time basis may be considered residents of Canada for the purpose of these principles. Individuals who are formerly residents of Canada, but who are not living in Canada (12 months of the year) at the time they seek elective medical care in Canada, may be considered to have a close connection to Canada and may be deemed a resident of Canada for the purposes of these principles.

In assessing whether or not the individual has a "close connection to Canada," the following factors may be considered:

  • Is the individual a Canadian citizen or been granted immigration status by the Canadian government?
  • Is the individual residing in Canada full-time while attending a recognized Canadian educational institution?
  • Has the individual recently or previously lived in Canada for an extended period of time?
  • Does the individual maintain a residence in Canada?
  • Does the individual have family members in Canada?
  • Does the individual have a previous doctor-patient relationship with the Canadian physician?
  • Does the individual have a valid provincial or territorial health card?

Members should contact the CMPA if there is uncertainty  about whether an individual may be considered to have a "close connection to Canada," as no one factor is determinative.

Matters brought in Canada

  1. Where a matter is brought in Canada (i.e. through the courts, licensing bodies, or other administrative tribunals of a Canadian province or territory) by a non-resident in respect of care provided in Canada, the Association will generally extend assistance to the member.

Matters brought outside of Canada

  1. Where the matter is brought in the U.S. or in another foreign jurisdiction (i.e. through the courts, licensing bodies, or other administrative tribunals of a U.S. or other foreign jurisdiction), the Association will generally decline to extend assistance to the member.
  2. The Association will generally extend assistance to members who treat non-resident patients in emergent or urgent circumstances, provided that:
    1. the care was provided in Canada;
    2. the member made reasonable efforts, in the circumstances, to obtain an executed Governing Law and Jurisdiction Agreement in a form satisfactory to the CMPA, where the member knew or ought to have known that the patient was ordinarily resident outside of Canada;
    3. the non-resident patients come to Canada for reasons other than to obtain medical care and unexpectedly develop medical problems. These problems would include, for example:
  • developing an acute condition
  • being in a motor vehicle crash
  • presenting in labour or with a complication of pregnancy
  • developing acute exacerbations of chronic problems while in Canada. This would include, for example, patients who require medications or treatment for their asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, etc.
  • requiring ongoing treatment of a chronic disease. This would include, for example, patients who requiring ongoing dialysis for kidney disease while travelling in Canada.
  • requiring renewal of prescriptions while in Canada. Members would generally be expected to provide only enough medication to last until the patient returns to their home jurisdiction. This would not include patients whose primary purpose for coming to Canada is to obtain medication.
  1. The Association may consider exercising its discretion to extend assistance in other exceptional circumstances, provided that:
    1. the care was provided in Canada; and
    2. the member made reasonable efforts, in the circumstances, to obtain an executed Governing Law and Jurisdiction Agreement in a form satisfactory to the CMPA, where the member knew or ought to have known that the patient was ordinarily resident outside of Canada; and
    3. the care is not reasonably available in the patient's home country. The member who is treating the non-resident patient in Canada should obtain a letter from the referring physician in the foreign jurisdiction advising that the care is not reasonably available in the patient's home country. The care in such circumstances may not necessarily be emergent or urgent, but should be necessary treatment.
  2. The Association will not consider exercising its discretion to extend assistance when a member has, directly or indirectly:
    1. solicited the treatment of a non-resident patient;
    2. actively undertaken or offered to undertake the treatment of a non-resident patient; or
    3. encouraged the creation of a doctor-patient relationship with a non-resident patient.
  3. For the purposes of this guideline, "solicit the treatment of a non-resident patient," "actively undertake or offer to undertake the treatment of a non-resident patient," and "encourage the creation of a doctor-patient relationship with a non-resident patient" include:
    1. providing care to a non-resident patient in circumstances where the care could reasonably be provided outside of Canada;
    2. taking steps to advertise in the foreign jurisdiction or directing advertising meant to attract non-resident patients (including in a telephone directory, newspaper, trade magazine, website, or any other medium);
    3. facilitating pre-treatment or post-treatment arrangements in the foreign jurisdiction, or both; or
    4. quoting prices for surgical treatment or other care in the currency of that foreign jurisdiction in any advertising or promotional materials.
  4. In cases where assistance is extended, consistent with its general discretion in all such matters, the Association may limit or decline to assume payment of any judgment or settlement amount in relation to any matter brought outside of Canada.

The Governing Law and Jurisdiction Agreement helps establish Canadian jurisdiction for any potential legal actions that may result from providing care or treatment to non-resident patients.

Members may wish to explain to their patients that the purpose of the Governing Law and Jurisdiction Agreement is to ensure that legal actions against the physician will be brought in Canada, where CMPA assistance is generally available.

Care provided outside of Canada

The Association will generally decline to extend assistance in relation to care provided outside of Canada, regardless of where the action is brought, subject to the following exceptions.

  1. The Association will generally extend assistance to members who provide care outside of Canada as a good Samaritan.

In some instances, the Association may extend assistance in relation to matters regarding care provided outside of Canada, except for work done in the United States and countries and territories under U.S. jurisdiction. Examples include humanitarian work, embassies, military, and international disasters. Members are expected to confirm their eligibility for assistance with the Association prior to leaving Canada.

Obstetrical care for non-residents of Canada

If a member provides obstetrical care to a non-resident and then, as a result of that care, is named in a legal matter brought in Canada, the CMPA will generally assist the member. However, if the legal matter is brought outside Canada (in a foreign jurisdiction), the Association will generally decline to assist the member.

Exceptions with legal actions brought in foreign jurisdictions

There are some exceptional circumstances where the Association will assist members with legal matters brought outside Canada resulting from obstetrical care given in Canada to a non-resident. The following are some examples.

Emergent or urgent care: Non-resident patients who present in labour or with a complication of pregnancy are considered to be in emergent or urgent circumstances. In these cases, if a member provides care and then faces legal action as a result, either in or outside Canada, the Association will generally extend assistance providing the member has made reasonable efforts, under the circumstances, to have the non-resident complete the CMPA's Governing Law and Jurisdiction Agreement in a form satisfactory to the Association.

Caring for mothers of "passport babies": "Passport babies" are children born to women who travel from outside Canada to deliver their babies at local hospitals. As Canada grants citizenship to anyone born on its soil, these babies are instant citizens and afforded certain privileges. Women having passport babies may be divided into two groups: those who come on their own and make healthcare arrangements once they land in Canada, and those who participate in "birth tours" where they pay a tour operator to pre-arrange their trip to Canada, including their healthcare, while staying here.

Women who arrive independently and seek healthcare after arriving in Canada often remain in the country until they go into labour. Therefore, failing to provide them with prenatal care, although not truly urgent or emergent in nature, increases the possibility of the patient developing an urgent or emergent condition. In these situations, the Association will generally assist members who provide care, whether a resulting legal matter is brought in or outside Canada. Members should make a reasonable effort to have the patient complete the CMPA's Governing Law and Jurisdiction Agreement in a form satisfactory to the Association.

The issue is different for women on arranged "birth tours." In these situations, arrangements for healthcare have been made through a tour operator in advance of the patients' arrival in the country. Physicians entering into an arrangement with tour operators to provide such obstetrical care have, either directly or indirectly, solicited the treatment of a non-resident patient, actively undertaken or offered to undertake the treatment of a non-resident patient, or encouraged the creation of a doctor-patient relationship with a non-resident patient. Therefore, the Association will generally not assist if the member is a defendant in a matter brought outside of Canada.

Caring for foreign nationals temporarily living in Canada: Members may be asked to, for example, treat the pregnant spouses of American football players living in Canada during the football season, the pregnant spouses of Swedish hockey players living in Canada during the hockey season, or a pregnant woman working in Canada on a contract. In these situations, the woman is not a Canadian citizen, but is a temporary resident of Canada.

Members can provide obstetrical care in these circumstances knowing they are generally eligible for assistance whether they are sued in Canada or a foreign jurisdiction. In these situations, as the patient is a temporary resident, the member should make a reasonable effort to have the patient complete the CMPA's Governing Law and Jurisdiction Agreement in a form satisfactory to the Association.

In summary, for obstetrical patients:

A member providing obstetrical care to a non-resident patient will generally be eligible for CMPA assistance if:

  • the patient is in labour or with a complication of pregnancy in an emergent or urgent circumstance
  • the patient is likely to remain in Canada for the duration of her pregnancy and labour and the member has not, directly or indirectly, solicited the treatment of a non-resident patient, actively undertaken or offered to undertake the treatment of a non-resident patient, or encouraged the creation of a doctor-patient relationship with a non-resident patient
  • the patient is temporarily residing or working in Canada, or both, and plans to return to her home country

A member providing obstetrical care to a non-resident patient will generally not be eligible for CMPA assistance if:

  • the patient plans to remain in Canada for the duration of her pregnancy and labour and the member has, either directly or indirectly, solicited the treatment of the patient, actively undertaken or offered to undertake the treatment of the patient, or encouraged the creation of a doctor-patient relationship

Soliciting business via foreign websites

If a CMPA member is sued by a patient in a foreign country, and the member solicited the business from this foreign country, the member will not be eligible for assistance.

Soliciting business includes: advertising in the foreign country; pre-treatment arrangements undertaken in the foreign country (either alone or with an associate physician); quoting prices for surgical interventions in foreign currency on the member's website; and maintaining a website without including a disclaimer that the content is intended for a Canadian audience only.

CMPA members who advertise on the Internet or have their websites linked to foreign sites should include a disclaimer that could be worded as follows:

This is a Canadian website. Its content is intended only for residents of Canada.

Medical examinations of foreign performing artists

Some Canadian physicians may be requested by film production companies to perform independent medical examinations on their personnel. The examinations may be needed so the companies can obtain insurance for personnel, notably actors, many of whom are based in the U.S. These examinations are not generally solicited and are not considered doctor-patient relationships; they are third-party examinations requested and paid for by the production companies.

If a production was stopped because an actor became ill and couldn't perform, the actors, production company, or insurer could try to recoup their losses by suing the physician, alleging the loss was due to a failure to diagnose a medical condition. Any individual or business from a foreign country could seek redress through that country's courts. This may also occur with Canadian companies that are affiliated with foreign companies.

The CMPA will normally assist a member in the event of medical-legal problems arising in Canada as a result of professional work done in Canada, but not when medical-legal problems arise outside of Canada.

The CMPA advises physicians to have the person being examined sign the CMPA's Governing Law and Jurisdiction Agreement that ensures any disputes, claims, or legal actions will be brought in the jurisdiction where the physician practises. Of course, this does not guarantee that foreign actions won't be brought; it is merely a powerful argument in successfully restoring jurisdiction to Canada.

To protect against the risk of foreign litigation, physicians performing independent medical examinations on foreign performers should also:

  • obtain, through a broker, a professional liability insurance policy that would provide the physician with insurance coverage for any litigation brought in a foreign country arising out of the work in examining performers and completing cast medical insurance forms
  • seek an indemnification agreement in respect of such medical examinations from both the production and insurance companies
  • request that the production and insurance companies enter into an agreement requiring that any disputes, claims, or legal actions be brought in the jurisdiction where the physician practises, in accordance with the laws in that jurisdiction

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.