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Public and health professionals agree: Canada needs patient-centered care

Consensus is often hard to come by in these binary times,  but there is a health care issue on which both the general Canadian public and health professionals agree: the need for patient-centred care. Although recent studies show that both groups support this type of care, which emphasizes things like timely access, mutual respect and decisions made in partnership between those receiving and providing the care, patient-centred care is far from a reality.

It’s not like it isn’t needed; chronic diseases affect more than half of Canadian seniors, and our population is continuing to age.

So, what’s the disconnect? A new report, “Patient-Centred Care in Canada: Key Components and the Path Forward,” published in Healthcare Quarterly, examines current attitudes and where we need to go from here.

The report’s authors include Owen Adams, the CMA’s chief policy advisor, and eight other leading Canadian health researchers. The report states, “Patient-centred care …seems an overarching and winning hypothesis on first principles. The concept of patients at the centre of health care, with informed access to the continuum of care based on needs, has been endorsed by more than 130 organizations in Canada, including the CMA and the Canadian Nursing Association.”

To illustrate the support for the concepts associated with patient-based care, the report cites findings from the 2013–14 and 2016 Health Care in Canada surveys.

In the latter survey, 83% of the general public expressed support for “care that is readily, and timely, accessed.” Ninety-one percent of Canadian physicians were in support of this concept, while 98% of nurses indicated support.

Among the general population, 82% supported “care that is provided in a caring, respectful context,” a concept that was supported by 93% of doctors and 97% of nurses.

More than three-quarters of Canadians surveyed said they supported “care that is based on need and not the ability to pay,” a concept that was supported by 80% of
doctors and 97% of nurses.

The results were fairly consistent across the two surveys.

What is lacking, concludes the report, is the value that both groups place on measuring and reporting the use and outcomes of the components of patient-centred care that are priorities for them. The authors state, “The Canadian public and a broad spectrum of health professionals rank use and outcomes’ measurement among their lowest action priorities to drive future improvement in patient-based care and outcomes.”

The authors conclude  that the lack of measurement and feedback with actual data promote “skepticism and uncertainty around patient-centred care philosophy and practices.”

If this type of care is to become a reality, say the authors, the way forward “must embrace the implementation, measurement and impact feedback of the most strongly supported stakeholder priorities of patient-centred care.”

With a large proportion of the Canadian population moving into old age, that finding may seem grim, but the report ends on a positive note: “The time is right. Things can be better.”