Health Council of Canada calls for immediate action
to curb the epidemic of chronic health conditions
Canada must strengthen efforts to prevent chronic health conditions and support patients as active partners in their own care, says the Health Council of Canada, adding that if governments act now, they can curb the growing epidemic of chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Although Canadians are quite healthy by international standards, we rank last when it comes to timely access to high-quality primary health care compared to other countries. For example, 30% of Canadians with a chronic health condition wait six or more days for an appointment when they were last sick or needed medical attention. In New Zealand and the Netherlands, fewer than 6% of adults wait that long.
Today, the Health Council of Canada released Why Health Care Renewal Matters: Learning from Canadians with Chronic Health Conditions, at the Garratt Wellness Centre in Richmond, BC. This report examines whether Canada's health care system is meeting the needs of people with chronic health conditions and how changes to care can improve their health.
The Garratt Wellness Centre helps patients prevent and manage chronic health conditions. The centre is an example of ActNow BC, an all-of-government approach which requires all departments to promote healthy living to reduce the prevalence of common risk factors for chronic health conditions.
A handful of risk factors such as inactivity, poor eating habits, and smoking, feed the current epidemic of chronic health conditions. With the right kind of support, people can reverse their risks and avoid complications. A recent Canadian study concluded that if everyone lowered salt consumption by less than one teaspoon a day, the number of cases of high blood pressure would decrease by 30%, saving at least $430 million in physician, laboratory, and medication costs a year.
This report includes results from the first national survey that asks Canadians with chronic health conditions about their experiences with care, as well as an international survey of patients in seven countries. These surveys focused on seven select chronic conditions: arthritis, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, certain lung diseases, and mood disorders. The growing prevalence of chronic health conditions is important because they have a profound impact on the health care system and on the health and well-being of over nine million Canadians, or over one in three people. One-third of these people have multiple long-term health problems and half live with moderate to severe levels of disability.
The Health Council's research raises questions about the current quality of chronic care, particularly the gaps in helping patients manage their conditions and reduce the risk of complications. Team care is expected to have an impact on the health of people with chronic health conditions and improve access to appropriate care. Today, 33% of patients with chronic health conditions have a nurse regularly involved in their care and 18% see other professionals such as dietitians or pharmacists at their regular place of care. People with chronic health conditions use 70% of all nights spent in hospital. With quicker access to high quality primary health care we could reduce that figure.
The Health Council makes recommendations to both government and Canadians. We recommend that governments:
We recommend that Canadians:
- Invest in proven strategies that improve the quality of care and engage people in managing their own chronic health conditions;
- Adopt an all-of-government approach to create the social and environmental conditions people need to reduce their risk for chronic illness;
- Speed up development of interprofessional teams as part of a broader redesign of traditional family doctor practices across Canada;
- Develop and use appropriate data systems to support better tracking, research and public reporting on chronic health conditions and the impact of investments to promote health and access to care.
To read the Health Council of Canada's report Why Health Care Renewal Matters: Learning from Canadians with Chronic Health Conditions, two data supplements, and a report on our public consultation on health care renewal and chronic illness care, visit: healthcouncilcanada.ca.
- Expect more from your health care system and the people responsible for it;
- Continue to support public investments in healthy living;
- Take responsibility for your health and the health of your family.