Expert Touts ER Wait Times Online

Media Appearances, Healthcare & Welfare, Frontier Centre

Johan Hjertqvist hopes that one day soon Canadians will be able to consult with their physicians by e-mail or use the Internet to check on emergency room wait times.

It sounds like a pipe dream, but it’s already being done in some European countries.

“In Sweden, if you need to go to the emergency room, you can check on the Internet to check on the wait so you don’t need to sit there for four hours,” Hjertqvist said Wednesday. “In a consumer-friendly system, information and patient rights are essential.”

Hjertqvist is the founder and president of Health Consumer Powerhouse — a think-tank in Brussels and Stockholm that develops consumer information about health care using the Euro Health Consumer Index.

The index uses 28 indicators to rank five areas: Patient rights and information, treatment wait times, outcomes, funding of health-care systems and access to new drugs. In the 2006 index, France ranked first out of 26 countries.

Hjertqvist was in Regina to promote a Euro-Canadian Health Consumer Index.

“The more you know about your illness and the different options in health care, the better are the outcomes,” he said. “We try to address the lack of information by ranking health-care systems on a national level in Sweden and we do it on the European level.”

Patient rights and information include accessibility to medical records, the right to a second opinion and access to a family physician’s e-mail address, Hjertqvist explained.

“We’d like to benchmark Canadian provinces to Europe and see what the weak and strong spots are,” he said. “Our basic attitude is that Canadians should have access to as good health care as you have around Europe.”

Hjertqvist hopes to make the comparisons before summer. To do that, he’s teamed up with the Winnipeg-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy, which will use available data and work on the index full time.

“We’re intending to have an office in Saskatchewan early next year, probably in Regina,” said Frontier Centre president Peter Holle. “The role of the independent think-tank is to put new ideas on the table and talk about it in a nonpolitical manner. One of our advantages is that we accept no money from government, which allows the think-tank to be more adventurous.”

Unlike Roy Romanow’s health-care commission, which focused on more resources being put into health care, the index will look at structural reforms, Holle said.

“When I look at the European situation, it’s very common to have a mix of public and private providers,” said Holle, who added that he’s not advocating American-style health care but measures are needed to lower the nation’s health costs.