Immediate action needed to improve health care in Alberta: AG

John Cotter, The Canadian Press
June 06, 2017
By John Cotter, The Canadian Press
EDMONTON – Alberta's auditor general has called for immediate action to improve a health-care system he says is still falling short despite years of recommendations on how to make it better.

Merwan Saher says too many roadblocks continue to prevent the government and health providers from working together to give people the best quality of care possible.

"Significantly better health care is within reach, and putting more money into the system is not the answer," Saher wrote in a report tabled in the legislature last week.

"Integrated health care is the framework used by the highest-performing health systems in the world, but we need to overcome some key barriers that have prevented successive governments from establishing this kind of system."

The provincial government forecasts that it will spend $21.4 billion on health care this year – almost 40 per cent of its entire budget.

Saher says the system is too fragmented, physicians and other care providers don't work together enough and clinical information isn't shared efficiently.

He says health care needs to shift its focus to the long-term needs of patients and away from bureaucracy, the negotiating efforts of health providers or four-year election cycles.

People should have access to more information about their own health and treatment options and should be able to communicate with their care team, Saher says.

And the government, Alberta Health Services and physicians should work more closely together.

"Alberta's public health care does not operate as one system," he says.

"It is like an orchestra without a conductor – a collection of independently acting providers and professional groups that offer treatment through a series of isolated episodes."

The report says members of the legislature, including cabinet ministers, should not make specific demands of the health system or intervene in matters that are the responsibility of health managers.

Physicians should have a greater role in managing the quality of care, it says, but should work with other health providers and be offered incentives to achieve improved results.

Better integration of services could help family physicians prevent higher-cost visits to emergency rooms and reduce hospital admissions, Saher says.

The report's findings are based on a review the auditor general began in 2015 into why so many recommendations made by his office on how to improve health care have not been acted on over many years.

Saher says change is necessary, overdue and achievable.

"Albertans are paying for the best," he says. "Why would they not expect the best?"

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