Dr. Brian Day @DrBrianDay Twitter

  • Past President Canadian Medical Association
  • Past President Arthroscopy Association of North America
  • Honourary Associate Professor University of British Columbia
  • 2014 Doctors of BC Don Rix Leadership Award

Alberta has unique opportunity to lead the country in health-care delivery

Jun 15, 2008

Calgary Sun

Some Albertans are wary of the changes the province plans for our health-care system.

But according to the heads of the Canadian Medical Association and the Alberta Medical Association, the stars are aligned like never before to resuscitate our ailing health-care system.

With a buoyant economy, a government that has just won a strong mandate from voters and a clean slate after eliminating regional health authorities, Alberta is in an ideal position to improve patient care and eliminate wait times.

In a visit with the Sun editorial board this week, CMA President Dr. Brian Day urged the province to adapt a patient-focused funding model, where health institutions get paid according to the number of patients they treat, as opposed to getting a lump-sum block of funding up front.

Patients would have the ability to look at a hospital or clinic's record and choose where they want to have a procedure done, says the orthopedic surgeon who runs a private surgery facility in Vancouver.

"Right now Canada remains the last developed country in the world to give its hospitals a block of money at the beginning of the financial year and say go operate and we don't care how efficient and effective you are."

Since Britain overhauled a similar system in 2003, wait times have been significantly reduced.

For evidence the current system isn't working, all we have to do is look at the failure of years of rising health-care budgets to drastically improve accessibility and wait times.

That was a big factor in the demise of the health region system last month.

It was replaced by one provincial "super board."

Alberta Medical Association President Dr. Darryl LaBuick says the health-care system gradually became fragmented after the regional health authorities were created in the 1990s.

"It was be-coming more difficult to establish a standard of patient care across the province," says the St. Albert family doctor.

LaBuick cautions that the revamp planned by the province will only work if it puts the patient first.

"Our health-care system is now looked at as administration and system-focused, whereas the centre of care should actually be the patient."

Day says individual health institutions must be empowered under a new centralized provincial health system.

"If you're going to have this big super authority ... it has to be bottom up. You can't have an overall dictator who never goes to the workplace and never looks at the real work that goes on."

Although Albertans might be justifiably nervous about the plans brewing in our health-care system, the two top docs make it clear things have to change.

A recent international study ranked Canada 23rd out of 30 compared to 29 European countries and dead last when it comes to value for money.

Canada ranks 24th in the world in the number of doctors per capita.

"Alberta is perfectly positioned because you've got a new government with a big mandate," says Day.

It has a great opportunity, says LaBuick, "to look down the road and look at the horizon and see where they want to wind up. They don't have to look at means right now, they can look at ends."

Health care has become a hot potato that can burn politicians' fingers if it's not handled correctly.

This new government has the luxury of enough time to do it right.

It's already demonstrated it has the courage to go where others fear to tread.

If it succeeds, Alberta could become a model for health-care delivery across the nation.