Our nation is often defined by our passion for hockey, our taste for beer, and our universal health care system. There is little question that Canada’s hockey prowess endures and our beer remains cold. But our health care system? Overburdened, and totally ill-prepared to endure the perfect storm that lies ahead and threatens to effectively capsize our already challenged system — the convergence of an aging, demanding baby boom population with an increased incidence of multiple chronic conditions, expensive technologies and new drugs.
Already, Canada spends more than most developed countries on health care, and that number is on the rise — current projections predict our health care spending will consume 80 per cent of provincial budgets by 2030. Yet, according to the 2010 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey, Canada has the least effective, least safe, least co-ordinated, least timely and least patient-centred care amongst the nations surveyed. While Canada ranks amongst the top four OECD countries in knowledge creation, we rank dead last in the transfer of new knowledge to innovative health care technologies and solutions.
As a former CEO in the financial services sector, I know that consumers embrace the convenience, speed and accessibility of their banking records and funds — wherever in the world they may find themselves. Technological advances, in finance and beyond, have helped to make our lives easier, while keeping us engaged and feeling connected. We are more empowered. Knowledge is at our fingertips.
In everything that is, except health care.
Moving forward, it is vital that our health care system embraces the information technologies that other sectors of the economy have successfully implemented. In fact, they should be at the very core of our system. Without them, a patient-focused, participatory model of health care will not be possible — a model I strongly believe is the only way Canada will be able to survive the perfect storm it faces.
Participatory medicine engages and empowers patients to be active participants and self-managers of their chronic conditions and health. It creates efficiencies in both delivery and costs, improves quality and outcomes, inspires innovation, demands accountability, promotes the adoption of technology and fosters collaboration. And there are the numbers to prove it — there’s a growing body of research that demonstrates participatory medicine and technologies reduce hospital admissions, shorten length of stays, reduce primary care visits, improve safety, promote self-care and heath-first attitudes, and facilitate teamwork.
A mandated system-wide patient-focused model in Canada, supported by technological innovations, would change the paradigm from dependence to independence. Rather than simply helpless observers, Canadians would be positioned as active partners in their own health care journey.
In order to make participatory medicine a reality in Canada, the prevailing paternalistic attitude that “father knows best” must change. Physicians and providers need to recognize and embrace the breadth and depth of medical literature and information available to the public. A demanding, technologically savvy baby boomer cohort reaching old age in historic numbers and suffering multiple chronic conditions, combined with the adoption of web 2.0 and mobile technologies, will form the basis for collaborative participatory medicine.
Canadians and their health care providers shouldn’t shy from our brave new health care world. The most effective way to improve our over-burdened system is to make it more collaborative. Embracing technology for all it has to offer and empowering patients to be active participants will only serve to strengthen Canadian health care services.
We can’t afford to ignore the real chance to innovate and strengthen health care in Canada. If we don’t take action, we risk turning the Canadian dream of a world-leading, universally-accessible health care system into a nightmare of even longer wait times, scarcer resources, and crammed, crumbling hospitals.
We must work together to usher in a radically transformed system of participatory medicine while embracing disruptive technological innovations, bringing the patient into the medical process and arming them with the tools to do so. Otherwise, we will end up with a system no one wants. One that is unworthy of this great country.
You can also read this article at The Huffington Post.