Looking Forward to Canadian Healthcare Reform

Looking Forward to Canadian Healthcare Reform
ByEvra Taylor Levy

It’s no secret that one of the major – and most-talked-about – issues inCanadais our healthcare system. Professionals working within the medical community, as well as those of us using its services, are feeling the effects of a national healthcare infrastructure struggling on life support.

In a speech to the Empire Club of Canada last February, Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, President of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), said, “Today, Canadians are saying that health care is as big a concern as the economy and they want action now,” and he asked the federal government to create a Health Care Action Plan based on Canada’s Economic Action Plan.

In December 2010, Turnbull launched an initiative he hoped would engage Canadians in a cross-country dialogue designed to inspire new ideas and solutions to the healthcare crisis that has crippled our ability to answer the needs of an aging population.

Turnbull’s grassroots approach was intended to spark conversations with healthcare consumers in what could, ideally, be deemed, “healthcare for the people, by the people”. The program began with a website asking Canadians to provide feedback on what a transformed healthcare system would look like to them. More than 50,000 hits confirmed Turnbull’s sense that the time was right for a community-based forum to discuss specific issues of interest to Canadians in their respective provinces.

As a second part of the action plan, town hall meetings were held in partnership with CPAC (Cable Public Affairs Channel), and Maclean’s and l’Actualité magazines. These events have been staged in cities includingHalifax,Edmonton,Toronto,Vancouver, andQuebec. Turnbull says he witnessed tremendous enthusiasm and a high turnout on the part of the public. In fact, each meeting was sold out.

The response in each city reflected its participants’ unique perspective. InEdmonton, the feeling was, “We need to have a grassroots social movement because the government won’t lead us in healthcare reform. We need to advocate for this change”. InVancouver, Turnbull said, there was a lot of energy around the idea of a publicly funded healthcare system. Torontonians expressed the need to address access to healthcare. Apart from those specifics, Turnbull said, the cities shared the same basic concerns.

The key issues discussed at these meetings were: access to clinic and hospital-based primary care; access to surgeons; availability of pharmaceuticals regardless of one’s ability to pay; and greater availability of preventive healthcare resources. All of these factors clearly are relevant to opticians and optometrists in their ongoing efforts to provide optimal care to their patients in both urban and rural settings.

One of the elements that surfaced was the need for a shift in thinking toward a paradigm in which consumers share responsibility for their own healthcare, and feel a sense of accountability. “We are examining the question, ‘what is the individual’s and family’s responsibility when it comes to healthcare?’ We have moved away from a curative, acute care model to one in which patients are engaged in their own health,” Turnbull stated.

Meetings were also convened with physicians across the country, who expressed the same concerns as healthcare consumers. A key discussion point was the growing need for long-term, home-based care, rather than community-based care. Said Turnbull: “This model offers many efficiencies including a financial saving. We also need to work on integrating various healthcare workers and resources, leading to a more comprehensive approach to care.” Montreal MDs expressed the need for greater radiology and diagnostic services, and raised the issue of the current shortfall in primary and long-term care facilities.

Turnbull summed up the town hall events as a reflection of Canadians’, “huge appetite for discussion on healthcare matters”. He will be gathering the information gleaned from the national dialogue and, together with an expert panel, the CMA will look at how to get to where they want to be. A report of Turnbull’s findings will be presented at the CMA annual meeting in August.

Given their major role in the medical community, Canadian ocular health professionals have an important stake in the discussions – and the outcome – of healthcare reform programs being considered under the aegis of the CMA and other concerned organizations. There is no doubt that healthcare is a priority for all Canadians and that a healthcare action plan is something to which we all look forward.