In 2008, if you had asked me what I thought of Canada’s health care system I would have told you that I thought it was pretty good. Did we need to spend more money on health care? Yes, of course. But I would have said this because of my left of centre bias, not because I had any extensive experience as a patient.
Last year that changed. Due to a number of encounters with our health care system I have a whole new perspective. Am I an expert? No. Do I look at it differently? Yes.
First, a brief synopsis of my experience. In 2009 my beautiful and healthy baby girl was born. Shortly there after I developed some problems with my gallbladder- apparently fairly common after pregnancy. Between pregnancy, labour and delivery, postpartum care and gallbladder attacks, I went from the ‘once a year check up with my family doctor’, to patient to an array of health care providers. Low risk maternity clinics, the hospital labour and delivery ward, public health nurses, breastfeeding clinics, over-the-phone advice from nurses, specialists, and emergency rooms.
And what did all this change about my perspective? My opinion of our health care system went from pretty good to not so good. I know we are very lucky to have the health care system we have. We aren’t forced into bankruptcy in order to get health care. It is accessible, mostly free and has good standards in compared to the rest of the world. But I also really did not like a lot of what I saw.
So what was my major complaint?
Waiting; waiting when there should not be waiting. When I was in labour, I waited over 3 hours outside the labour and delivery ward before I was taken into ‘triage.’ In the hallway. In labour. No one checked on me. When I went back after they sent me home the first time I waited about another hour.
When I was in the midst of a gallbladder attack (think more painful then childbirth) at the first hospital I went to I was quietly advised (“I am not supposed to tell you this… but…”) that if I went to an other hospital I might be seen quicker, as I would be looking at a 12 hour wait there. 12 hours? In the emergency room? I went to an other hospital and waited for about 2 1/2 hours.
Now I would like to think, in both situations, if they determined that there was a danger to myself or my child they would not have had me wait. Maybe I didn’t look like I was in enough pain in either circumstance to warrant their attention any sooner. I do have a high pain tolerance and I am not a screamer. But it scares me to think what could have happened. Then I started thinking about all the other waiting in the health care system that people do. Waiting in a life or death situation. Like for major treatments, or tests, or transplants. Waiting when your kid is really sick. *Shudder*
*Side Note: I would like to say, just in case I am giving the wrong impression, I do not blame the individuals I encountered in the health care system. I can not think of a nurse, doctor, technician or secretary that didn’t obviously care about every person they encountered and was trying their absolute best.
Waiting is not the only problem, just the one that got me thinking. Now I understand why those, who have the means, want the option of private health care. And I can understand the argument that it would clear up the public system for the rest of us. However, I am convinced that no sooner would the government pass legislation to allow private hospitals, then the campaign would turn to “if I am not using our health care system, why should I have to pay for it?” Private is not the solution.
*Side note: Also, doesn’t private by definition mean profit? And public, by definition mean not-for-profit? So in simplistic terms, if you don’t have to turn a profit don’t you have more money to actually provide health care with? Just in theory, I guess.
So what do we do about this? How do we get our governments to actually fix the health care system? This is not an easy question to answer. I don’t even know where I would begin to study and try to answer this question. But I have a feeling there are two aspects we need to start by looking at:
1) When we have so many people who’s health is being negatively impacted by our unhealthy lifestyles, eating habits and environmental pollution, our ‘health care’ is so much more then just hospitals, doctors and nurses. It is impacted by environmental and food legislation and our policies on recreation. And, of course, individual choice. While this complicates the question, it also suggests we need a whole different approach.
2) Years of health care cuts have lead to a system that focuses only on the short term treatment of the immediate symptoms. The long term care and prevention strategies are always the first to get cut. Shortages of long term care facilities leave people in the hospitals that should be in a long term care bed. Health care doesn’t always cover things like physio therapy that could prevent someone from needing expensive surgery. Family doctors have 10 minutes to address just your most immediate issue, not enough to support you to make healthier lifestyle choices. Many people don’t have a family doctor. We spend money on the big, immediate, obvious things to the detriment of the less expensive costs that could help people be healthier and better cared for.
If we can address these aspects of the health care system, then we would be on the right track to finding some real, long term solutions. The key words in the discussion need to be healthy lifestyle, holistic approach, prevention and long term care.