March 3rd, 2015
Two years ago I was referred to a specialist for a cancer screening test by my doctor. The specialist doctor’s clinic called me two weeks ago to schedule the test. I actually laughed out loud; I had already paid to have the test done at a private clinic in Vancouver. Ironically, I claimed the cost on my Belgian health care insurance, which I retain for life because I retired from Belgium after working in that country for sixteen years ( I am a Canadian, born in Canada and lived most of my life in Canada).
As an aside, Belgium has one of the best heath care systems in the world. It has no wait lists, great care, public and private options, and universal coverage that is much more comprehensive than that provided in Canada. In addition to hospital, clinic, diagnostic, laboratory and physician services, they provide universal coverage for dental care, vision care and medications as a normal part of their system. They do so with patient choice and without waits. Their system covers over 85% of all health care costs. Our public system in Canada covers less than 70%. On average, they pay about the same for health care (mostly from government public funds) as Canadians.
Anyway, back on subject. My personal experience reflects the sorry state of health care in Canada. I moved back to Canada from Belgium six years ago. Since then I have waited more than seven months on five separate occasions to be referred to a specialist and receive care. I waited 13 months for relatively minor urological surgery to correct a non-urgent but continuously deteriorating problem. The condition was causing ever-increasing discomfort and pain. I also waited nine months for a cardiac echo-graph after a heart rhythm anomaly was noted during an ECG. Booking the ECG test itself, after referral by my family physician, had already resulted in a wait of seven months. I also waited nine months to see an orthopaedic surgeon about a knee problem that was causing pain and made walking difficult. It, too, was a continuously deteriorating condition. I already mentioned waiting two years for a cancer screening test ordered by my doctor.
In the end, I pulled the plug three times and went to private clinics for treatment/testing. The private clinic I went to in Vancouver did a great job on the cancer screening test and the cardiac echo-graph. I made the appointment, had the procedure completed and had the results back to my family doctor in less than a month on both occasions. When I couldn't get in to see an orthopaedic surgeon I made an appointment with the "notorious" Dr Brian Day at the Cambie St Clinic. He was great - professional, personable and competent. I received a comprehensive diagnosis and referral for treatment right away. Seeing Dr Day saved me several months of pain and joint deterioration. Again, my health care insurance from Belgium paid the bill (at 90%).
My other recent experience with our system comes from spending twenty-four hours on a hospital ward in Sechelt after I had urological surgery. After surgery I was put in a filthy room and there were blood splatters on my bed frame from the last patient; the bed had not been cleaned when the bedding was changed and the bed was made. I took pictures of the blood drips and splatters on the bed frame with my smart phone. After discovering the blood by accidentally smearing it on my hand, I asked the care staff to clean it up, then had to ask again when they didn't do a thorough job and I found more blood splatters later. The care staff then let my special catheter system (which was intended to provide uninterrupted continuous flushing of my internal surgical wound) run dry on four separate occasions in a single twenty-four hour period. Members of the staff were indifferent and inconsiderate. Two nurses stood outside my room door and had a loud, private conversation about their upcoming weekend activities for 35 minutes – starting at 11:30 PM when people were trying to go to sleep. If we had choice and competition for our selection of hospitals as in other countries, I would never return to that hospital. However, it's a government monopoly system and I may have no choice. It's rather Stalinist.
My subsequent complaint against the hospital for all of this resulted in profuse apologies (by letter but never in person or over the phone) but nothing else. I had to elevate the complaint through three rounds before the hospital agreed to make procedural changes to reduce the risk of providing similarly bad care in the future. I remain skeptical that the changes were actually implemented.
I grew up during the implementation of Medicare in Canada and was proud of that system, thinking it was the best in the world. I now know it was all a hoax. Many countries do this so much better than Canada does – and those countries - in Europe and elsewhere in the world, like Australia - provide great models to follow. We have a blind spot about our medical system, probably because we only compare it to the US. Ideological propaganda from those opposed to the provision of private health care adds to the problem.
I am eternally grateful for my Belgian health care insurance; if we fixed our system every Canadian could have the same. Our health care system is broken beyond repair and needs to be remade from scratch.
Your story reflects my frustration with our present health care system. Waitlists are definitely an issue but also at issue is the often poor healthcare delivery that occurs in the environment of waiting. Really Canadians are asked to put their healing process on hold due to a waitlist or their healing actually becomes sabotaged by the very places and people that are meant to facilitate healing. There is a huge blind spot in our system and I agree we limit our potential by not considering other options. Put on your global glasses Canada!!