Health care – How Our System Compares

Media Appearances, Healthcare & Welfare, Frontier Centre

Canadians are generally proud of the country’s “universally accessible” health care system, but that doesn’t mean an ongoing debate over its effectiveness should be off limits.

Even the system’s most ardent supporters should feel there’s some room for improvement after the release of a study that ranked Canada 23rd when compared to the health care systems 29 European nations.

“Our performance is marked by very few bright spots,” said the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg-based think-tank that conducted the study. Health care in this country was consistently found to be between poor and adequate.

In particular, Canada fared poorly for consumer, or patient, friendliness.

“Because our system is oriented toward providers, rather than the system’s users, consumers do not receive meaningful guarantees of timely and effective treatment.” said Rebecca Walberg, one the report’s researchers. “In successful European health care systems, there are strong patient rights laws. Because Canadians lack such rights, Canadians are treated as passive patients, rather than empowered consumers.”

Walberg said that nowhere is this more apparent than in regard to waiting times: “It’s certainly not news to Canadians that diagnosis and treatment waits in Canada are long. But it is a surprise to see that we finish at the very bottom of the (Euro Health Consumer) Index in this area.”

The Frontier Centre study did find that treatment is generally “excellent” in Canadian emergency rooms, and compares well when it comes to clinical outcomes. For example, the 30-day mortality rate for Canadian patients who suffered a heart attack is very low at 11.1 per cent. And for infant mortality and cancer five-year survival rates, Canada is in the middle of the European pack.

However, when it comes to how much countries spend on health care, what the reports call the “bang-for-the-buck” scale, Canada comes in dead last

(Last year, Canadians spent just over $160 billion on health care, and that figure has been going up about five per cent a year over the past decade. About 70 per cent of the total is public spending.)

“The Euro Canada Health Consumer Index shows that we do a mediocre job of fulfilling our commitment to excellent and accessible healthcare,” said Walberg. “The Austrians, the French, and the Dutch enjoy better and more accessible health care than we do, and at a lower per capita cost.”

Instead of dismissing the report, provincial governments should use the findings to improve their individual systems. For starters, Dr. Brian Day, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, said Canadian patients need to have more of a say in how health care is delivered.

“It (the study) shows we’re not getting value for money, we’re not performing at the level that a rich and successful country should perform at,” said Day.

Day adds that it’s time to get more creative in the delivery of health care. The sooner our politicians admit that, the quicker this country can embrace innovative solutions, including use of private clinics and care, that help ensure the long-term sustainability of the universal health care system.