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Redesigning Canada’s healthcare system for efficiency and empathy

In the face of a rapidly changing population, soaring healthcare costs, and shifting expectations from its citizens, Canada finds itself at a critical crossroads in the evolution of its healthcare system. The Canadian Institute for Health Information projects healthcare spending to surpass $344 billion annually, a staggering 12.1 per cent of GDP. Yet, the country’s health outcomes and the efficiency of healthcare delivery do not align with this substantial investment. The system is strained by an aging demographic, a surge in chronic diseases, and the escalating costs of advanced medical treatments. This pressing situation demands an urgent and radical overhaul that could draw invaluable lessons from the triumphs of public healthcare systems worldwide.

A comprehensive redesign of the Canadian healthcare system that takes cues from global healthcare innovation leaders could address systemic challenges, eliminate administrative inefficiencies, and alleviate citizen dissatisfaction. This article envisions a transformed Canadian healthcare system that meets the needs of future generations and also achieves significant administrative efficiencies and clinical innovation in the present.

Healthcare delivery requires patient-centered approaches

For many Canadians, the reality is lengthy procedure wait times, limited access to specialists, and a healthcare infrastructure struggling under the weight of a growing population. Meeting and managing patient expectations has become increasingly crucial as the Canadian population ages. Citizens have contributed to the system for years, so they have a legitimate expectation to receive the care they need and deserve. 

Canada’s healthcare system grapples with a myriad of challenges. Fragmented service delivery and diverse regional models pose barriers to achieving economies of scale and a healthier population. The administrative backbone often stumbles, burdened by outdated technology and cumbersome bureaucracy that hinder rather than help. Most importantly, the emotional and psychological needs of patients are often neglected in a system stretched to its limits to meet operational demands. These challenges underscore the need for a comprehensive redesign that prioritizes patient-centered care and efficient administration.

So, the question that faces legislators and the public sector is: how can Canada improve the delivery of care, making it more accessible and tailored to the needs of its diverse population? Christine Morgan, a Registered Nurse and account executive at TELUS Health, believes the answer lies in having a bold vision incorporating the best practices from around the globe and adapting them to the Canadian context. Drawing from her background spanning healthcare, business and law, Christine’s insights offer a nuanced perspective on this critical issue, underscoring the importance of informed discourse and innovative solutions.

“The journey towards a redesigned and redefined healthcare system requires collaboration, innovation and a commitment to maintaining the principles of universality, accessibility and quality that define Canadian healthcare,” says Morgan. “The examples set by other countries with universal healthcare systems, such as Estonia, Denmark and the UK, provide a roadmap for achieving these objectives.”

For example, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), focusing on accessibility and patient rights, provides a model for creating a healthcare system that respects the desires of its citizens, particularly the elderly who wish to age on their own terms. Likewise, Denmark and the Netherlands have streamlined their healthcare through integrated IT systems and strong primary care networks. They use digital records and e-health solutions to reduce wait times and administrative burdens, ensuring doctors spend more time with patients and less on paperwork.

Adopting a more patient-centered approach will mean training healthcare providers in clinical skills, empathy and communication. Moreover, facilities designed with patient comfort in mind and services that respect Canada's population’s cultural and linguistic diversity would significantly improve patient satisfaction. 

An innovative healthcare system inspired by global best practices can ensure that Canada continues to lead the world in delivering compassionate and sustainable healthcare to all its citizens. However, Morgan cautions that no single system is without challenges, and a lift-and-shift healthcare model without appropriate modification is unrealistic. 

“While we can take inspiration from best-in-class ideas, they require adaptation and pressure testing to evaluate their feasibility for Canada’s unique situation,” she explains.

Big data and technology can enable administrative efficiencies 

The transformative power of big data and technology in healthcare is not a new concept. Estonia is a pioneer in digital health solutions and exemplifies how integrating data across the healthcare spectrum can revolutionize patient care. Through e-health records, e-prescriptions, and e-ambulance services, Estonia has created a more efficient healthcare system highly responsive to patient needs. Additionally, Denmark’s approach to integrating technology, where digital solutions support rather than replace human interaction, offers valuable lessons on ensuring empathy and ‘care’ with technology as an enabler.

A significant step for Canada would be adopting a unified digital health record system. Such a system would eliminate redundant tests and procedures, reduce costs, and increase the speed of service. Furthermore, telemedicine could be expanded beyond rural areas to become a standard practice nationwide, making healthcare more accessible to everyone, especially those in urban centres where navigating the healthcare system can be daunting.

“By adopting patient-centered technologies, Canada can foster a healthcare environment that balances innovation with empathy, ensuring that technological advancement enhances rather than detracts from the quality of care,” says Morgan. “We have the potential to harness technological advancements and employ data analytics to enhance decision-making and improve patient outcomes.”

Furthermore, technology can facilitate administrative efficiencies by making processes leaner and more user-friendly. For example, a centralized appointment scheduling system and simplifying the referral process between primary care physicians and specialists would ensure faster patient treatment and better health outcomes. 

Using artificial intelligence to innovate healthcare

Utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) in the work of clinicians and healthcare administrators is an emerging space with high potential for innovating healthcare. AI can transform healthcare and significantly improve patient care, from diagnostic accuracy to administrative efficiency. Healthcare systems around the world are partnering with government, academia and the private sector to develop new treatments and technologies. 

Recently, investigators at MIT and Mass General Hospital in Boston collaborated on the development of AI models for breast cancer risk prediction. This research underscores the potential for AI to enhance patient care significantly. In Canada, BIOS Health has entered into a research partnership with Montreal-based Mila, McGill University, and the Université de Montréal to develop a closed-loop neuromodulation system using AI. It recognizes neural signals and adjusts real-time stimulation to improve treatment efficacy, potentially helping patients with chronic cardiac conditions. 

Other benefits of adopting AI include streamlining operations to create efficiencies, realizing savings in healthcare expenditure and delivering a higher quality of care through capacity management. According to an analysis by McKinsey, the full-scale deployment of AI applications in Canada could reduce healthcare spending by 4.5 to 8 per cent annually without compromising affordability, patient outcomes and experience. 

Reimagining the role of AI-powered technology in healthcare can make Canada's healthcare system more proactive and patient-centered. Adopting a preventative care model can reduce long-term healthcare costs by focusing on keeping people healthy rather than just treating them when they are sick.

“By leveraging data analytics, cutting-edge technology and artificial intelligence as enablers, we could create a more efficient, data-driven and integrated healthcare delivery model that places empathy and ‘care’ at the center while staying true to the Canada Health Act’s three pillars: universality, portability and accessibility,” says Morgan.

The task of redesigning Canada’s healthcare system is daunting but not impossible. By integrating advanced technologies, simplifying administrative processes, and focusing on patient-centered care, Canada can build an efficient and empathetic healthcare system. The goal should be transformative change that meets today’s needs and anticipates tomorrow’s challenges, ensuring a healthier future for all Canadians.