We’re Not Number One; We Just Smell Like It

Okay, so after living in Ottawa for almost 2 years now, I finally have some access to medical care. I spent my first few months here calling around to all the doctor’s offices, clinics and hospitals; checking the online registries; talking to anyone and everyone about available family doctors. Mostly I just got laughed at – the very idea of a doctor accepting new patients was, apparently, absurd.

Only one clinic offered to put me on their waiting list. I waited. A few months ago (after 19 months on the list), I was summoned to fill out some paperwork in order to be short-listed. Then last week I was called in for an interview and assessment. Now, I will be assigned a Nurse Practitioner and will be able to make an appointment for a check-up. I’ll only get to see a doctor if something goes drastically wrong. That’s fine. I’d much rather deal with a Nurse Practitioner anyway. So, hurrah for me! I get health care!!

The US is hot into debates over health care reform at the moment. Opponents are warning American citizens that affordable health care will bring plagues of locusts on their heads and/or turn them into Canadians.

We shake our heads and smugly brag about our fabulous “free” health care. Afterall, we’ve been told since birth that we have the best system in the world, right? Oh there’s always some lacklustre discussion about making a few changes to our system, but it usually involves pumping more money into it…because it’s so damn good, it deserves to suck up tons of money.

We’ve been lied to. Canada doesn’t even have the second best health care system in the world. We’re not even in the top ten. We’re 30th according the World Health Organization (The US is 37th). And, Canada has the fifth highest expenditure for health care of any country in the world.  That doesn’t sound so good, does it?

Most European countries have great health care systems. Here’s what makes them great:

  1. Their health care system puts people first and responds to people’s needs. A novel idea, no?  They emphasize:
    • Respect for persons (including dignity, confidentiality and autonomy of individuals and families to decide about their own health). The latter is something I’d dearly love to be a part of. It makes me crazy that I get sent for tests and am not allowed to see my results or know anything about them until The Doctor has time to haul me in for an appointment to tell me there’s nothing wrong with me or that I have only weeks to live.
    • Prompt attention, access to social support networks during care, quality of basic amenities and choice of provider. (Choice of provider? What kind of crazy utopia are they running over there?) 
  2. Financing for the health care system is taxed according to net income and health care money is invested in training of health care providers and promotion of preventative health care. Hospitals receive funding and resources according to the type and number of services they provide rather than receiving a block of money which they have to use to pay the electric bill or something  instead of paying for nurses.
  3. Public and private health care services are integrated which, contrary to popular belief, has strengthened both systems. The competition has created innovative, responsive care and eliminated most of the inefficiencies our public health system enjoys.

And here’s an interesting fact. The World Health Organization has determined that populations with good health care systems also enjoy better health! Which, in turn, puts less demand on the system, making it even better. I shake my head in awe at the pure old world genius of it all.

So, hey ya’ll American friends — if you’re looking to vamp up your health care system, don’t look up here for ideas. Go talk to your best friend, France, because they’ve been number one for pretty much ever.

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