Dr. Jane Philpott on misconceptions and opportunities for Canada’s health system
Once every ten years, the Canadian Medical Association General Council (or “CMA GC” for short) meeting is held in Vancouver, BC. It’s one of the largest gatherings of Canadian physicians, and forms the basis for a number of health reforms and policies that we later see play out on the national stage.
2016 was one of those years, and to mark this important event a number of resident representatives from Resident Doctors of BC joined over a hundred other medical students, residents and early career physicians to participate in the CMA GC Ambassador program, a foray into the world of national medical policy debate and policy-making.
This is also the first time in decades that our federal health minister has actually been a physician and member of the CMA. So it is perhaps not surprising that Dr. Jane Philpott made it a point to make an appearance at one of the largest national gatherings of physicians since her inauguration as Canada’s Minister of Health.
In addressing the General Assembly, she discussed widely-held misconceptions about healthcare in Canada, and how she feels they can – in many cases – serve as a barrier to problem-solving and health innovation.
She argued that the first widely-held misconception is that, over time, taking care of our country’s elders will bankrupt our healthcare system. She explained that this will only be the case if we refuse to realize the cost savings that will come with embracing alternate approaches to care.
Depending on the province, we currently spend $800-1000 per day to take care of an elder person if they are institutionalized or in a hospital bed. The major cost efficiency that is not being realized is an investment in home care: compare what a hospital bed costs to the $55 per day it costs for the delivery of home care in Ontario. In addition to that, given that most elders and their families prefer to receive care at home rather than in hospital, she feels that a sustained investment in home care will both save money and improve the care we provide our older population.
Dr. Philpott also pointed out that while many of us feel that Canada has one of the best health systems of the world, this is simply not true. Canada consistently spends more per capita on health care compared to a number of other countries with publicly-funded health systems. We are also consistently ranked lower than most other OECD countries with respect to the quality of care we provide. She emphasized that we should be looking at systems such as the British National Health Service and Australia’s health system, and learning from their experiences. Both countries provide better quality of care while spending less per capita and as a percentage of GDP. While not all of their approaches will work here at home, undoubtedly some of their methods can be tailored to be successful in the Canadian context.
It was an inspiring talk, and one that betrayed her background first and foremost as a community family physician, and not a politician. A number of delegates asked her whether, in her attempt to rein in health spending, she would advocate for universal public coverage of prescription drugs. Evidence suggests that such an initiative would reduce total spending on prescription drugs by several billion dollars. While she voiced her personal support for a national pharmacare plan, she also reiterated that her current objectives of improving seniors’ care and addressing inequities in indigenous health would take precedence.
Dr. Philpott made it clear she wouldn’t make promises she couldn’t keep, but also urged the audience, “Keep holding my feet to the fire.” A refreshing and bold challenge from our health minister, and one that we certainly must meet in order to work toward a better and more sustainable health care system.