Hot! ‘You can’t be cured by an idea’ [health care]

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial Opinion
Published On Sat Aug 28 2010.   Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, President Elect, Canadian Medical Association

This is an edited excerpt of Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull’s inaugural address as president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association. It was delivered Wednesday in Niagara Falls:

Canadians value their health care. They cherish the idea that services are provided without regard to income or means — the idea that quality health care is the birthright of all who live here. But you can’t be cured by an idea. You can’t be made healthy by a theory. The system needs to work in practice. And right now, today, in too many places across Canada, health care isn’t working nearly well enough. . . .

I arrive at work in the morning, to a major hospital in the capital of our country. What do I see? I see dozens of admitted patients in the emergency department, all without beds. I see sick men and women, receiving care in hallways and corridors. I see surgeries being cancelled. I see long delays for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, and I know the pain and anxiety that will be endured as a result.

Equally, at any one time, in my hospital alone, there are as many as 150 patients awaiting placement in long-term care — where they would receive more effective care at a fraction of the cost. Every doctor, every nurse, every hospital volunteer knows that getting these patients out of the hospital and into a more appropriate environment would reduce wait times, surgical cancellations and hospital congestion. Does it happen? No. . . .

Ours is a system that fails so many of the vulnerable — the poor, the elderly, our first nations, the disabled, the mentally ill and more. . . . To achieve reform, we will need to work more collaboratively with the broader community. . . . Real change requires consensus. . . .

Our recently released “Health Care Transformation” blueprint for change rejects the idea that there is some quick and magical fix out there that will reinvent and revive our health-care system — user fees, privatization, what have you. You can’t wave a magic wand and cure a patient. And you sure can’t wave one and fix a system. Our five pillars protect and build on our commitment to universal access — on the belief that quality care is the right of every Canadian, without regard to their ability to pay. . . .

Last year as a nation, we spent $183 billion on our health care. And what did that get us? It got us ranked second-lowest among advanced countries in terms of value for money. It’s not a lack of resources. It’s not an absence of will. It’s a glaring failure of execution. Yes, there is a need for enhanced expenditures to allow for restructuring in areas such as information technology, electronic medical records, chronic care and pharmacare. But more broadly, we can provide better and more effective health care by focusing on integrated care, a safety and quality agenda and evidence-based decision-making.

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