Patients, the Right Medicine for Health Care

Patients have known for a long time the health care system could be doing more to address their fears, concerns and needs. Now, a federal investigation into the state of the Canadian health care system has given weighty validity to those concerns.

Released in July, Unleashing Innovation: Excellent Healthcare for Canada was authored by an advisory panel chaired by highly respected physician, health leader, Dr. David Naylor, at the request of Canadian Minister of Health Rona Ambrose.

Although the report makes many recommendations at the federal level, most of the gaps highlighted by the panel – Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation – point to problems within our current, provincially-based health care systems. As such, we (IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health) call on Alberta Health to take action on the first three of five critical areas identified by the panel in particular; areas that must be addressed to improve the quality of the Canadian health care system.

The five identified areas are aimed at giving patients a stronger voice in health care; coordinating the health system and updating the management and structure of the health care workforce; using modern technology and research results; making better use of our money; and creating an environment that uses the health care industry for economic growth and modernization.

Patient engagement and empowerment is the first of five priorities listed in the Naylor report. A health care system that’s designed around patients’ needs will give patients a greater role in their own health, as well as the health care system. There is strong evidence to suggest that our health care experiences, as well as the safety, quality, and outcomes of our care, can be improved if care is designed and delivered through teams that include citizens. The expertise that citizens bring provides a unique and valuable perspective to health system planning and performance. More patient involvement will lead to improvements in our health care experiences, as well as safer and better care. The lessons we learn from being a patient are far different from those taught to health care providers in classrooms and are invaluable in any health care decision at a personal or system level. The report states that where ‘patients and families are actively engaged in their health, patient outcomes, experience of care and economic outcomes can be substantially improved’.

The report eloquently voiced a major concern of citizens and patients- There is a large gap between what the health care system says it does and the actual care patients receive. Patient-centered care requires partnerships between patients, families, and practitioners, and better methods for communication and information-sharing.

The report also makes the point that patients have the right to access their own medical records. Two-way communication between patients and providers allows patients to better manage their own health and can be done using digital tools. Notable among these digital tools are patient portals, which provide 24-hour electronic access to personal health information, as well as a way of communicating with providers.

The third recommendation addresses the fact that for sick, injured, overwhelmed patients, the system is too hard to navigate. As such the Naylor report identifies that special knowledge and skills are needed by patients to understand how to be partners in their own care and in planning health services. A particular focus needs to be placed on helping patients to be active partners. Oftentimes, the complexity of the system presents a barrier to involvement, especially for those who have many of their own barriers to access (language, cultural, financial, disability).

The report states Canadians no longer believe more money will fix the problems with their health care system. Building on this, the report recommends a change in culture, not an increase in operating dollars, across Canadian health care systems. This culture change would cover aspects such as having provinces and health regions work together more, as well as helping patients and their families play a bigger part in their own care and in deciding how health care is delivered. The message in this report relates directly to the concerns we hear from citizens and patients every day. A change in ‘how we do things’ (culture change) is needed to make our health care system better.

We spend more on health care compared to most other developed countries, but our health care system gets poorer results. With a patient-centred approach to health care, we can do better.