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Better Health Outcomes Require More Than Money

December 13, 2015 10:09 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman

Blood Pressure

(Blood pressure measuring image via Shutterstock)v

NEEPAWA, Man. — We rely on government for many services that make our lives easier, but of all these services, none is more important than health care.

While we may like our streets cleaned and our garbage picked up; and we may rely upon international trade agreements and national security to help us go about our daily lives and jobs, at the end of the day, if we aren’t alive, or in good enough health to enjoy it, nothing else matters.

The importance isn’t lost on government, they spend a lot of money on health care. In Manitoba, the 2015 budget called for $6.088 billion in health spending. Not only is it by far the provincial government’s largest area of expenditure, it amounts to 40 percent of the province’s entire budget.

The federal government, which isn’t actually responsible for health care, spent $32.1 billion on health transfer payments to provinces in the 2014-2015 year. Budget 2015 called for increasing transfers by $27 billion over the next five years. This is in addition to targeted spending in areas such as seniors’ health and mental health.

The amount our governments spend providing health care has been increasing, and with an aging population, the trend is only beginning. The problem is that despite all of this funding, many individual Canadians still face challenges accessing health care.

For many, the problem begins at the family doctor level. In our Prairie Mountain Health region, there are 16 communities with openings for family physicians. That’s a lot of Manitobans who don’t have a reliable point of entry to our health care system.

To combat the problem, the province has created a family doctor finder, which matches physicians with Manitobans in search of a doctor. So far, the program has matched 35,786 Manitobans with a family doctor. The problem is that the service can’t make doctors appear where there are none.

Problems don’t just lie in access to basic health care. The Fraser Institute recently released their annual study of wait time across Canada and has determined that for the third consecutive year, median wait times have remained stagnant. The annual survey of physicians examines the total wait time faced by patients across 12 medical specialities — from referral by a general practitioner to consultation with a specialist and subsequent receipt of treatment.

The study found that nationally, the median wait time sat at 18.3 weeks, up slightly from 18.2 weeks in 2014. Despite all of the money that has been invested in health care, in 1993, the median wait time was just 9.3 weeks.

At a week over the Canadian average, Manitoba ranks middle of the pack. Here, the median wait from GP to specialist was 7.8 weeks, below the Canadian average of 8.5 weeks. The median wait from specialist to treatment was 11.6 weeks, longer than the Canadian average of 9.8 weeks. This is an improvement from 2013, when the median wait time was 25.9 weeks.

We are making progress and the study found that the shortest wait times were in the areas of radiation oncology (4.1 weeks) and medical oncology (4.5 weeks). These findings correspond to the experience of people locally, that our medical system seems quite good at quickly treating those with cancer.

With new technologies and an aging populating, health care costs will continue to increase, but by now, it should be clear that throwing money at the problem doesn’t guarantee better access or outcomes for patients. What we need is thoughtful solutions — whether it’s ways of getting more medical professionals or making better use of our existing resources. This is a problem that must be addressed, and the sooner the better.