Will healthcare fees help reduce wait times?

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Sabrina Almeida

According to a Fraser Institute report published at the end of 2018, the median wait time for medically ‘necessary’ treatment in Canada last year was 19.8 weeks. New Brunswick topped the list at 45.1 weeks and Saskatchewan had the shortest wait at 15.4 weeks. In that respect Ontario didn’t fair too badly with 15.7 weeks (approximately 3.6 months).

However, waiting 3 months for diagnostic testing and specialist appointments is not just an inconvenience. It can have serious consequences on your physical as well as mental health. Not only can the condition worsen but the stress of not having a diagnosis can lead to or exacerbate other health problems as well.

This brings us to the critical question as to whether long wait times are really the fallout of “free healthcare”.
I strongly believe that they are. And many healthcare practitioners are starting to agree.

I’d like to clarify here that the growing number of us that feel this way don’t support privatization either. So, let’s just get that off the table.

My personal experience with wait times has been ridiculous. I waited almost four months for an MRI appointment and have not been able to see the specialist even thought the referral was made in November. In fact, I’m still waiting for an appointment. I’m told it could be April or even August. The latter would make it 9 months.

The irony is that I am a patient of the said specialist although my last visit may have been around 2 years ago. (I waited around 4 months to see her first time round as well.) My family physician was equally miffed and followed up at the end of February. We still haven’t heard back. My condition is serious though not life threatening… actually I don’t really know if it is! How acute must my condition be to get attention sooner? And if it does become critical while I’m waiting to be seen… I suppose there’s always the ER to go to, right?

So, what’s causing me and thousands of other patients to be in limbo? In my humble opinion, it’s a system that is overloaded with unnecessary referrals for diagnostic testing and specialists. What’s more our seniors might be at the centre of the problem.

A family physician narrated how one of his senior patients demanded a second opinion. The gentleman first went to the emergency to get an immediate referral and then came to the walk-in clinic when his request was turned down. Did he require it? His doctor didn’t think so. As doctors are bound to make two referrals, the gentleman was just exercising his rights and the healthcare practitioner didn’t have a choice in the matter. He tried to reason with the family with no success. In frustration he pointed out how they had wasted valuable healthcare resources. With no critical health issue, the senior was responsible for increasing the wait time for someone in need of urgent care both at the ER and walk-in. That’s what they are for, right???

This is just one of many cases clogging the system. Many South Asian seniors see medical appointments as a social activity. Mind you they would be more discerning in their home country where there are steep fees associated with even basic healthcare services. The misguided notion of free Canadian healthcare fuels the indulgence. Some practitioners add to the problem. After all they get paid for these visits and referral fees as well. Why else would an 85-year-old in seemingly good health be required to have blood tests every three months?

In reality it is we who have it wrong. Healthcare is truly free for immigrant seniors who haven’t contributed a dime to the system. Hence the abuse. Little can be said of their family members, many of whom have brought them here to avail of this “free” service. Perhaps the politicians have not accounted for this expensive side of family reunification.

In my opinion, a $5 charge for doctor’s visits and diagnostic testing would take the burden off the system. Both physically and economically. My family physician smiled when I told her my solution. She shared how the doctors in the clinic had joked about it earlier.

In a previous report the Canadian Institute for Health Information projected total health expenditure in Canada was expected to reach $253.5 billion, or $ 6,839 per person in 2018. Having to shell out even a fraction of the cost themselves would have many Canadians rethinking whether they really need the treatment.

As the Ontario government looks to a Super Agency to increase efficiency and cut wait times and cost, the solution might lie with the patients exercising better judgement. Perhaps it is also time to switch to single referrals with the second one at the sole discretion of referring physician. Hospitals and clinics should also be able screen patient appointments based on the urgency. Turn away some if necessary. It’ll be worth it for those that really need medical attention!

We don’t need to increase healthcare spending but rather to ensure that it is better spent!

And my bet is still on charging nominal fees!!! -CINEWS

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