Health Care System in Western Europe More Efficient than Ours

Media Appearances, Healthcare & Welfare, Frontier Centre

Everyone has an opinion about health care.

If I’ve learned anything from writing this column it’s that seniors are fiercely protective of our health care system. Many of the seniors that I talk to believe we have the best health care in the world. Are they right? Let’s look at what some of the recent research says.

Earlier this year the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Canada-based think tank, released the Euro-Canada Health Index. The Index compared health care in Canada with that of 29 European countries. The rationale here is to look to other countries for ideas on how to make our system better. Take, for instance, the example of wait lists. We have very long wait lists in Canada. England and France have been able to reduce their wait times by tying money to patient care and requiring hospitals to meet wait time targets.

In 2007, BC introduced a pilot project that paid hospitals more money for cutting emergency wait times. At Lions Gate Hospital, 57 per cent of patients requiring admission were moved to a bed within the 10-hour target, compared to 39 per cent before the pay for performance funding model was introduced.

The Euro-Canada Health Index looked at several health care quality indicators, such as patient rights and information, pharmaceuticals, generosity of public systems, primary care and access to own medical records. Austria came out on top, scoring 806 points out of a possible 1,000 points. Austria has a generous health care system that provides good access for patients and very good results. Next, separated by just a few points were the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Germany. Canada, unfortunately, placed 23rd out of 30 countries with a score of 550. The report says the Canadian system is “sclerotic, inefficient and remarkably stingy” in providing excellent and timely care to patients.

When it comes to patient rights and access to information, Canada tied with Poland, ahead of only Latvia. And Canada shared last place with Ireland and Sweden for wait times, which the report called the “weak spot in Canadian health care.”

I can see our switchboard lighting up already. Before you reach for the telephone, the good news in the study is that Canada’s clinical outcomes are in line with the best performing health care systems in the world. In other words, when patients are finally able to access the system, the results are excellent.

There is one more finding in the study that we cannot ignore. Canada spends more on health care than many of the countries in the Health Index and on the “bang for the buck” scale, Canada ranks last. You read that correctly, last. More money is not the answer. There is little relation to how much each of the 30 countries spend on health care and how well they rank in the Index. This report is not an anomaly. The last study I saw shows that Canada’s physician to population ratio ranked 26 among the 28 developed nations surveyed.

Studies like these appeal more to academics than the public but there is a lesson to be learned here. The health care system in Canada is good. Make no mistake about that. But the health care system in Western Europe is better. We might not like it, or believe it, or accept it, but the evidence for that is clear and irrefutable.

Tom Carney is the co-ordinator of the Lionsview Seniors’ Planning Society.