Canadians could get more bang for their health-care buck by focusing policy on the socioeconomic factors that cause health problems, says a Senate subcommittee report released Wednesday.
Fifty per cent of the population’s health is determined by a person’s social and economic environment, while only 25 per cent can be directly attributed to the work of the health-care system, according to the report entitled Population Health Policy: Issues and Options.
“There appears to be a commitment to old-style health-care delivery systems,” said the subcommittee’s co-chair, Senator Lucie Pepin. “A commitment to population health strategies and community-level programs would lead to Canada getting the kind of value for money that we see in other countries’ population health strategies.”
The health of a population is affected by a wide range of factors including education, income, early childhood development, culture, gender and access to health care.
Interest in health care is high in Canada, but only one in three people understand the way health is connected to these various socioeconomic factors, the report said.
Canada gathers population health data effectively, but lags behind countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland and England in the way the information is applied to a broad range of government policy, resulting in wasted public funds, the report said.
One striking example found in the report is the status of Canada’s Aboriginal population. Aboriginal peoples in Canada face numerous socioeconomic disadvantages that have a direct impact on their health according to the report.
Thirty federal departments and agencies deliver programs and services, at a cost of $8.2 billion, to Aboriginal peoples, but the report states that they are not co-ordinated in ways that reduce health disparities. Similar problems with policy co-ordination were found in the provinces as well.
“What we see in our studies is that Canada is not getting value for money in its health care,” said committee chair Senator Wilbert Keon. “The Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index has placed us last out of 30 countries in this category. What this tells me is that we are doing something wrong.”
The Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index was released in January by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg-based think-tank. The index ranked Canada 23rd out of 30 countries overall.
The report suggests the establishment of a federal population health strategy and set national population health goals, invest in population health data systems and research and implement an Aboriginal population health strategy.