Health Care needs to be about patients

Across Canada we have been talking — and talking — for many years about the need for change in our health-care system, but we have consistently failed to act to improve the system.

Across Canada we have been talking — and talking — for many years about the need for change in our health-care system, but we have consistently failed to act to improve the system.

Physicians, nurses, health critics and ordinary citizens all agree we need to change how we deliver health care, but when a new idea is introduced there is fear that government has an agenda to dismantle public health care. There is nothing further from the truth.

What we are doing is introducing change to ensure the patient — not the system — is the priority.

The reality is, Alberta as well as the rest of Canada, is still operating our health systems with the patient resting at the bottom of the organizational chart. Only heavy lifting will be able to move them from the bottom to the top.

Better treatment and access for the patient can only take place if there is a true shift to the way we manage and deliver our health-care services.

Some of this heavy lifting began recently when Alberta Health Services announced its three-year plan to increase access to community resources with almost 800 new spaces for the aging, disabled and mentally ill.

Contrary to what you may have read, this move will see an increase in available acute care beds to relieve emergency department pressures and room for more, if necessary.

Yes, I was aware of the change and yes, I support it.

The driving factors in this shift were to make resources more readily available in the community — where people want them — while addressing wait times.

The move has been criticized. But no matter what criticism is leveled, we must never lose sight of our main priority — you, the patient.

That focus has already spurred innovation in our publicly funded health system.

More procedures are done in physician or other health provider offices and through remote or mobile means than ever before.

A patient with kidney disease can receive dialysis treatment in a small community instead of in a major hospital. Paramedics will soon be able to treat and release patients instead of making them wait in emergency departments. Minor surgeries take place in physicians’ offices every day. Pharmacists can alter and prescribe medications. These are just a few examples.

The role of the hospital is changing to become a centre for acute illness. The role of the physician is becoming the coach of the health team, not the only player.

We can better align access and care with the right health provider if we provide incentives to health professionals to put the patient’s needs first and remove the legislation that restricts us from accelerating this approach.

The Advisory Committee on Health is reviewing this legislation to ensure we protect the excellent publicly-funded health programs and services we have, while widening the bottleneck of very narrow access to the system.

I often get asked by many Albertans who are frustrated with wait times and lack of family physicians, “What is your plan for the system?”

It’s simple. I want quality care for every Albertan where:

• everyone has access to physician-led, team-based care;

• a broken bone, cut or minor injury can be attended to at an urgent care centre rather than always at a hospital;

• chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or depression are managed in the community;

• you can access your personal health information with the ability to share it with any health professional; and

• we have a system that is patient focused and not physician and facility focused.

We need a system where health-care professionals will be compensated according to how they use their expertise for the benefit of the patient — you.

What’s difficult is to set aside the fear mongering and political rhetoric and have a productive, open dialogue.

Change is often met with resistance; it’s human nature. But it is my hope that you will realize that we need a shift in thinking to move forward.

I also hope you will come to understand that you make choices every day about how you use the health system — a system that we all have responsibility for and have the responsibility to protect.

I have always said that I will fiercely defend and protect our publicly-funded health system.

But I will do it by pushing for change, leading innovation, and bringing more expertise and capacity into the health system than ever before.

Ron Leipert

Minister of Health and Wellness