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Canada’s Healthcare System: Not Underfunded; Inefficient and Mismanaged

Waiting room in Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto. - Waiting room in Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto. | For The Globe and MailRegular users of the Canadian Healthcare system know that something isn’t right. The system is broken, inefficient and mismanaged. It has become expensive and for the causes that it has received greater funding, it has not improved. Our healthcare system still easily deserves a failing grade for wait times, understaffing and overall performance but while some believe that it is due to a lack of funds, the reality remains that the funds are mismanaged and that regardless how much money you throw in the system, it will be wasted and your healthcare won’t improve.

There is a lot of controversy spiraling around the Conservative Government's decision to cut healthcare funding in 5 years. Provincial finance ministers are crying crocodile tears and some people are even afraid that the move will destroy Canadian healthcare.

First, let’s start with an analogy. Say that you are watering a garden. You notice that the pressure coming out of the hose is weak and insufficient. Naturally, you go to the main water supply of the hose and crank it up to a higher state. You continue watering the plants and notice dismal improvement. So you figure that there isn’t enough water and turn the tap to the max. As you continue watering, you are still agitated with the lack of pressure. You go to the tap once again but position yourself differently than before. All of a sudden, you feel your leg get shot with a burst of water. You look down and you are standing in a puddle with a massive leak in your hose. Ultimately, you either need to fix or replace the hose at this point.

Now how does watering the plants with a broken hose link to healthcare? Simple. Water is money, the hose is the system and pressure is the quality. So here is a question for you, if we are spending more money on a system that wastes money along the way, how much of the new funding will actually go to healthcare? And how will this increased funding help improve the overall quality of a broken system?

This view is shared by two thirds of Canadians: The problem isn’t funding, it’s efficient management.

If we look at some cases of what people had to say about the system, we realize that there are some real issues in healthcare.

Take Emily Nicolas, age 29, and a private calculus tutor, she used to say that we had a good healthcare system. After getting a stress fracture on her hip which was not properly diagnosed, she experienced an 8 year odyssey through the system. Nicolas endured 4 operations, including the replacement of her right hip, and formal physiotherapy which essentially weren’t needed and could have been done without.

“It’s not very sensible or innovative,” she said. “There’s too much focus on more diagnostics, more tests, when listening and communication could diminish the need for some of those.”

Now, the word mediocre is her overall description.

I can relate to her, while I did not have an injury like hers, I grew up in and out of the hospital and was very weak towards viruses. The wait times were awful, you are waiting in a room where you are surrounded by other sick kids whose germs are fresh in the air. Then you finally see a doctor 6 hours later, I guess I was one of the lucky ones, and they send you away with cold medication or with a diagnosis of mono, which were never the cases for me. I always ended up returning the next day in worst shape than I had entered and wait the long wait again to see a different doctor who would send me to the X-ray section. In the X-ray section, I would have to wait a few more hours before they finally take my X-ray and then I get the diagnosis that I should have gotten the first time.

The system is broken, Canadians know it, but, unlike the Conservatives, 77% believe in the public system. The public system does need a cleanup and some reorganization and efficiency checks, but it in itself is not the problem.

Increasingly, inefficiency is being seen as the main problem. Kevin Leonard, 54, a professor at Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, has lived for 4 decades with Crohn’s disease. When he went to get an ultrasound a few years ago for his abdomen, a frustrating encounter fueled his belief that patients need better access to their medical records. His radiologist folded a report on his exam and stapled it 17 times to hide his results until he saw a family doctor.

“It’s very, very ineffective the way it runs today,” he said. “It’s based on this mindset that’s rampant throughout health care that the patient is either not mature enough or does not have the right to get access to their own information until a doctor has said it's okay for you to have that.”

A solution that Leonard believes in is an online database which patients can use to track their health.

A friend of mine who lived in Ontario cited the events of a London-based hospital that should surprise many. The hospital underwent renovations and added a new wing. Usually, this is a good thing because it means more doctors, more beds, and better quality care. Once the renovations were finished, she investigated the new wing to find that it was solely for administrative offices and that no new beds or equipment was added. The renovations were on the taxpayer’s bill and likely came up to $1 million.

It goes to show that you can spend as much money on healthcare as you want, but if the system is broken, you are essentially flushing that money down the toilet.