Sunday, Oct 2022

Health may be wealth — but a Canadian health system that many consider underfunded and underperforming can make it hard to feel rich.

Staffing shortages and long wait times were problems long before the COVID-19 pandemic made system shortfalls more visible, experts say.

According to the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), nearly 20 million health care services were postponed or cancelled during the pandemic. That backlog includes surgeries and treatments as well as testing and doctors’ visits.[i]

“It will take months, if not years, to get through all of the backlog,” says OMA President Dr. Adam Kassam.

Canadians are optimistically beginning to consider life after the pandemic, and the future of the health system is top of mind. Here are five ways Canadian health care could be revitalized.

 

Boost Telehealth

Telehealth is a method of remotely delivering health care — one that Health Economist Erin Strumpf says saves physician resources while getting people the care they need.

Using technology in the form of online doctor visits and apps that monitor patient health, for example, can make care more accessible for remote communities and people with limited mobility while easing strain on the system.

“[Telehealth] requires less time, no travel, and no waiting in a room,” says Strumpf. “No, it can’t be used for everything, but why not use it for what it’s good for?”

 

Increase the Number of Acute Care Beds

According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada ranks among the lowest of OECD countries for acute care beds per capita.[ii]

Kassam says that number is far too low, adding that increasing the number of these beds in Canadian hospitals is just one piece of the puzzle. Hospitals also need to staff them.[iii]

“It's not just about beds, it’s also about having the human resources to provide the services to those individuals,” says Kassam.

 

Expand Mental Health Services

Pre-pandemic, one in five people in Canada were experiencing a mental health problem or illness in any given year, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.[iv] That number is expected to increase post-pandemic.[v]

Making mental health care more financially and physically accessible for Canadians of all ages and professions, including health care professionals, could ease strain on the system by reducing hospitalizations and increasing quality of care.

 

Strengthen Pandemic Preparedness

“We had a situation during the pandemic where we put lots of social restrictions in place [to] protect a health care system that is more fragile than other […] countries,” says Strumpf.

In response to the pandemic, the federal government established the Centre for Research on Pandemic Preparedness to help Canada prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from health emergencies.[vi] Canada can better prepare for pandemics by addressing staffing shortages in public health, hospitals, and long-term care and funding domestic production of drugs and medical equipment.

 

Reduce Wait Times and Backlog

Ontario is Canada’s most populous province but the second-lowest spender on health care per capita, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.[vii] But simply throwing more money at the problem isn’t enough, say Strumpf and Kassam. 

By investing to leverage telemedicine, revamp referral systems to cut down on wait times, and offload hospitals by allowing certain procedures and surgeries to be performed outside of hospitals, governments could make a huge difference in reducing wait times and addressing backlog.

“It's simply not good enough anymore to say doctors should work longer hours after 20 months of having been worked to the bone to get through the pandemic,” says Kassam.

 

Contributors:

Dr. Adam Kassam, Physician and President, OMA

Dr. Adam Kassam is a board-certified physician in physical medicine and rehabilitation. He’s also a clinical associate at Sinai Health and Runnymede Healthcare Centre in Toronto.

 

 

Erin Strumpf, Associate Professor at McGill University

Erin Strumpf teaches in the Department of Economics and the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University. Her research looks at outcomes of health care spending.

 

Sources

[i] https://www.oma.org/uploadedfiles/oma/media/public/prescription-for-ontario-doctors-5-point-plan-for-better-health-care.pdf

[ii] https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/en/data-insights/hospital-beds-acute-care

[iii] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-icus-adding-beds-but-will-it-help-1.5985771

[iv] https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/wp-content/uploads/drupal/2016-06/Investing_in_Mental_Health_FINAL_Version_ENG.pdf

[v] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ca/Documents/about-deloitte/ca-covid19-human-impact-pov-en-aoda.pdf

[vi] https://www.canada.ca/en/institutes-health-research/news/2022/01/centre-for-research-on-pandemic-preparedness-and-health-emergencies.html

[vii] https://rnao.ca/news/media-releases/cihi-report-indicates-ontario-spends-less-than-necessary-to-benefit-its-people

 

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