Reality check-up for health care in Canada
Canada’s health care system has had an unhealthy cough for years and it’s not getting better on its own.
According to the Fraser Institute the median wait time for treatment after seeing a doctor is now 18.2 weeks. So, on Jan. 1, your doctor tells you that discomfort on your backside might be a disorder that causes you to grow a tail. He refers you to a specialist who confirms the diagnosis. Alarming news for sure.
You could try to manage your condition but you’ve noticed that your golden retriever is forever coming home with twigs and brambles in his tail, which would be embarrassing in an office setting. So, you opt for the surgery. Then your specialist delivers the bombshell. You can’t get in until May.
You briefly consider going to a veterinarian before accepting that you have to live with the pain and embarrassment. You will need to get your pants altered.
Now, please understand that the situation I have described is not based on an actual case. I use it only to illustrate the seriousness of the situation in Canada. In 1993 the same process would have taken 9.3 weeks, or about half as long as it does today. Doctors tells us the median time between seeing a specialist and getting treatment is three weeks longer than is “clinically reasonable.” This is health care in Canada.
Note too that spending on health care is rising. Depending on the province it may now consume as much as half of all provincial spending. The polls tell us that timely access to health care is always the public’s first or second priority. And yet after 20 years, many great speeches and campaign promises and trillions of dollars in government spending, the time it takes to access treatment has essentially doubled.
Let’s get specific and look at one medical condition and one province. Consider lung cancer treatment in Alberta.
On Dec. 15, 2011, Alberta Health Services announced “the Expedited Management of Lung Cancer Program aims to ensure that, by March 2013, 75% of patients will wait no longer than 30 days from the time of referral from their primary care physician to when a treatment decision is made, and 60 days from the time of referral from their primary care physician to surgery.” They proclaimed it a “top priority” and allocated $15 million to make it happen.
But on March 27, 2014, the Canadian Institute for Health Information announced that the average wait time in Alberta between a specialist booking a date and the actual surgery was 85 days vs. 49 days, the national average. An epic fail.
I am not picking on Alberta. If the average wait times in Canada have doubled over the last 20 years then Alberta is clearly not alone. Canada’s health care system does not provide timely care and it’s not financially sustainable. Baby boomers are retiring in huge numbers. We are losing them as big taxpayers and gaining them as big patients.
There are a range of possible solutions. We shouldn’t shrink from discussing them just because they challenge old beliefs, many of which are crumbling under the weight of reality.