Canadian health care is always a hot topic, especially so on social media these days. Consider the activity online around last week’s visit by Senator Bernie Sanders and whether or not our system is one to be proud of, and one that performs well. Regarding the second question, many brought up our wait times to access speciality care, and how the long waits that characterize our system weaken it, and harm patients.
There have been efforts to objectively determine what the waits are for specialty care. The CIHI/Commonwealth Fund reports give a system-level overview, and the Fraser Institute’s Annual Report on wait times tries as well despite well-described methodological limitations. It’s encouraging to see Health Quality Ontario beginning to publish wait times for some specific conditions/services. Add in #CanadaWAITS, a hashtag boosted by journalist Andre Picard. Looking at the feed for the hashtag, you find many doctors, health care workers and patients describing instances of long waits for life-defining diagnoses or symptoms. The emotional toll is evident, and the frustration by the front-line healthcare providers who must navigate this system daily is plain for all to see. Timely access is a problem in our country, and it must be addressed.
ConsultLoop was started when we, as three family doctors, became too frustrated with long wait times, lost referrals and general opacity of the system as a whole. We built our platform to address many issues in the referral process, but wait times remain a priority. We strongly believe that we offer a solution to this crisis.
One key aspect of our platform is our directory. It currently includes 5,000 specialist listings, with descriptions on what they see and don’t see, as well as the most unique feature of all – what are their wait times based on referrals flowing through our platform. This information is readily available at the time the referral is made, and helps get the patient to the right doctor within a reasonable time frame. Looking for a neurologist with a practice focus on epilepsy? Looking for a gynecologist with a shorter wait time? Looking for a dermatologist who speaks Italian? We are here to help find that doctor for that patient.
We also hear from our rural colleagues who face an entirely different reality than docs like us practicing in the GTA. Specialist access is dismal, and surely many patients would be willing to travel elsewhere if only they could be seen sooner. Our directory provides that information, so that all doctor’s offices can have the same information about wait times and the specialists in our province. There’s no reason why a doctor in North Bay shouldn’t know about options available in Sudbury, Barrie or even as far as Toronto. The opacity serves nobody, and with a simple solution like ours readily available, it is reducing patient access unnecessarily.
We believe that the ideology behind our healthcare system is noble, just and worth being proud of. We also know that our healthcare system is under-performing in important aspects, especially around access and wait times. If we want to defend our healthcare system, we must be relentless in the pursuit of excellence, and that begins with addressing our shortfalls. That in turn begins with looking at new ways of doing things, new solutions – solutions in our midst. We are proud of our work because we see it as the essential system transformation that must take place if we are to defend our healthcare system’s core principles.