Smart health-care cards would reduce costs and free up doctors’ time

Roslyn KuninCanada’s health care system was once a great source of national pride and a shining example to countries less fortunate, such as the United States. Now all most Canadians see is a series of deficiencies and problems.

The latest and best (and most expensive) procedures and medicines are often not provided. Even common over-the-counter medications, such as those for children, can become scarce, as recently happened when a virulent respiratory virus was spreading among the young.

A quarter of Canadians do not have a family doctor and often do not have access to any other doctor. All health-related institutions are short-staffed at all levels, from physicians on down.

Hospitals lack staff at all levels and beds. Some communities even lack hospitals. Emergency cases can no longer be treated as urgent. Waits in ‘emergency’ rooms can be 12 hours or longer if such a room is even available. Many ERs have closed or reduced hours because of a lack of personnel.

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Those needing non-urgent surgery or treatment often wait months and years to have their condition treated and their pain relieved.

This growing disaster is not cheap. Our governments are spending over 12 per cent of their total budgets – that is one dollar in eight of our taxes – to pay for it. Throwing more money at the system will not fix things unless other changes are made.

The powers that be are finally acknowledging the large numbers of foreign-trained doctors, nurses, and other health professionals we are under-employing in this country. They may even be beginning to find ways to put them to use.

One very serious shortage in our health-care system is rarely mentioned. That is information. What data we have is often incomplete, incompatible and/or inaccessible. This lack and its impact on the health-care system have been well described by Don Drummond.

One way to introduce timely, accessible information into the health-care system is through individual smart health-care cards, which can store and/or access a patient’s complete medical situation and history. It would be kept up to date at each encounter with the health-care system.

The benefits of such a card system are obvious. Patients would always have their complete medical information with them. This information would significantly reduce the possibility of sometimes fatal errors when it comes to allergies, medications, etc., making the health-care system intrinsically safer, especially in emergency situations.

Having complete patient information at hand would also save time. In an emergency, that could be life-saving. Physicians’ time would also be saved by being able to treat patients sooner and greatly reducing the record-keeping and paperwork that has been too big a part of medical practice. Doctors have mentioned the burden of the paperwork as one reason for choosing to retire.

Complete information medical cards would free more time for doctors and staff in doctors’ offices, hospitals and other institutions. It would also result in significant financial savings while freeing personnel to do what they were trained to do: providing better, faster, safer health care.

Why, then, are such cards not being put into use?

One often-mentioned excuse is that it would violate patients’ privacy. Right now, we carry cards that access every detail of our financial situation. Our phones may have every nuance of our social life. Frequent user cards hold every detail of our travel to our taste in coffee. To gain access to numerous apps etc., we tend to click the ‘I have read and agree to’ button giving away privacy conditions that we have not even looked at.

To say that Canadians would choose privacy over access to better, cheaper, faster, safer health care seems a bit of a stretch.

Many are rightly concerned about asking our governments to install large systems. The Access Canada system was extraordinarily costly and not obviously effective. The Phoenix federal pay system will long be remembered as a lesson in how not to handle changes.

Hopefully, much has been learned in the workable rollouts of vaccines and vaccine passports. Those lessons and the careful selection of qualified and capable suppliers would enable the effective introduction of the smart care cards we need.

Dr. Roslyn Kunin is president of the Vancouver Institute and has been chair of the Vancouver Stock Exchange, WorkSafe BC, and Haida Enterprise Corporation. She has also been on the boards of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and the National Statistics Council.

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