Finding ways to health-care innovation

NationalPost.com – Opinion/Editorial
November 6, 2010.   National Post editorial board

Defenders of the status quo in Canadian health care reacted with the usual outrage when they discovered Ontario hospitals had ascertained a legal way to expand the use of MRIs and CT scans so that they served more people and spent less time sitting unused.

They were outraged.

“It’s the thin edge of the wedge,” declared the Canadian Healthcare Coalition. “If they don’t get beaten back, they will grow like a cancer.”

Not a very apt choice of words, perhaps, but a fine example of the shuttered thinking that ensures Canadian health care remains in crisis mode despite years of political hand-wringing. Rather than explore the obvious solutions that are available, organizations like the coalition prefer to circle the wagons and defend the existing system to the last patient.

The Ontario example is the latest to indicate that the market won’t wait. Medicare rules allow “third parties” to seek care outside the public system. A “third party” can be anything from a football team to a private business. As reported by the National Post’s Tom Blackwell, hospitals are increasingly embracing the opportunity this provides to make greater use of equipment and reduce waits, while earning extra revenue.

That’s what happens when organizations freed of government intrusion are allowed to innovate: They solve problems. If Canada’s governments continue to refuse to take action, beyond mouthing the usual bromides, patients will seek out options and, increasingly, the system will find ways to provide them.

Ontario is far from the first to act. Quebec already has private clinics that operate freely. Saskatchewan preceded Ontario in making MRIs available to paying customers when they weren’t being used. In fact, hospitals in most of the country are readching out to “third parties” in similar ways. It’s a simple message: Change will come. Governments can help facilitate it, or continue to enforce delays to everyone’s detriment.

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