Why you Need to Find a Doctor, Stat…

. . . and three other ways you can secure better health care.

By Lesley Young

Danielle Martin rises to the defence of Canada’s health-care system during a U.S. Senate health committee hearing in 2014.

“Tens of millions of people face the real possibility of losing health insurance south of the border,” said Danielle Martin, one of Canada’s leading activist family physicians. “We’ve built something good in Canada. Everybody has access to a doctor and a hospital. But there are lots of ways we can build on the good to make it terrific.”

Martin, whose profile grew dramatically when a video of her schooling a U.S. Senate health committee member about Canada’s health-care system went viral, is passionate about empowering Canadians to demand more from their health-care system.

“Part of the problem is health improvement discussions are held by policy-makers in Canada,” she said. “My hope is to reach Canadians who are not thinking about the system and get them engaged and concerned.”

The Women’s College Hospital family doctor will be exploring ways to do just that when she speaks at the University of Alberta Hospital on Feb. 9th about her book Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care. Here are four easy ways you can help improve your health-care system, stat.

1. Find your own doctor and use him or her.

“Canada has a high use of walk-in clinics and it’s not the greatest model,” said Martin, adding there are several downsides to popping into walk-in clinics instead of having—and regularly seeing—your primary care physician.

“Partly, it’s that your doctor is someone who knows you and is in the best position to observe changes in your health.”

Your primary care doctor is also the best person to help you navigate the health-care system and provide referrals, which is sometimes just as important a function as providing direct care.

2. Lobby to get prescription drugs covered by government.

Did you know Canada is the only developed country with universal health care that does not include prescription medication in the coverage?

“One in five Canadians reported they’re not using medicine because of concerns about cost,” she said, adding that bringing prescription drugs into the health-care system would be cheaper for Canadians than the current model being used.

“We waste a huge amount of money and overhead on private insurance companies, primarily because we don’t purchase drugs in bulk. If we followed the lead of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, we would see significant savings.”

The trouble is many of us are working and don’t realize our self-employed or part-time working neighbours don’t have private insurance for prescription drugs. What can you do to help? Speak up—lobby your local government or policy-maker for coverage.

3. Question every test that’s ordered.

Make sure when you’re prescribed a drug or a test that you ask whether it’s going to help rather than harm.

“We have huge over-prescribing, over-testing and over-doctoring in Canadian health care and it’s causing real harm,” said Martin.

She cited an overuse or ill use of pap smear tests, blood work, X-rays, MRIs and CT scans for various situations that are unnecessary, spark stress and, in some cases such as radiation exposure, may cause harm.

“This requires a culture change in physicians, thinking differently about risk versus benefit. But it is also about the public asking good questions of the doctor and understanding that more is not always better.”

4. Search for ways to expedite treatment.

We need to reorganize Canada’s existing resources a lot better and seek creative ways to tackle issues, like wait times for surgery or access to home care for Canadians at the end of their lives, explained Martin.

“There are lots of ways we are not using resources as effectively or efficiently as we could be.”

She cited Alberta’s Bone and Joint Initiative as a best-in-class example of reducing wait times by nearly half.

As a patient, she added, you can ask your doctor about whether there are ways to speed up wait times, or better routes to achieve a medical treatment.

“You should feel empowered to ask a lot questions of health authorities and hospitals.”

Source: University of Alberta