Canada’s healthcare system – like many others around the world – has been stretched to the brink. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the mass exodus of healthcare workers that continues to be an ongoing crisis, our healthcare system needs help.
One of the issues that crops up among this crisis is access to healthcare. With nearly 30 percent of Canadians chronically struggling with access to appropriate healthcare, this issue has led Canada to fall to ninth place out of 10 in patients’ ability to make a same-day healthcare appointment when they need it, compared to peer countries. This lack of access is prompting more patients to visit the emergency department (ED), putting increased strain on the system, and driving wait times.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, when visiting the ED, 90 percent of patients were seen by a doctor within four hours between March 2021 and April 2022 – an increase from a wait of up to three hours between 2017 and 2018. Additionally, 90 percent of patients who required a bed waited an average of 41 hours from 2021 to 2022, up from 33 hours in 2017 to 2018.
This leaves the question: Who has access to appropriate healthcare, where, when, and of what quality?
These are crucial questions decision-makers and healthcare professionals are asking, and for good reason. Working towards a solution that improves access to healthcare for all patients is one of the prongs of an effective, global-leading healthcare system that is essential.
We need a solution today that improves access to healthcare for all Canadians, when they need it and where they need it the most.
In this article, we’ll go over what healthcare deserts are, who is most impacted, the cost of healthcare deserts, and how we can move towards a system-wide solution that is inclusive of everyone.
Who Has Access to Healthcare Services?
Healthcare services, including family doctors, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, emergency room healthcare professionals, nurses, and other treatment providers, are in short supply. Emergency department closures – both temporary and permanent – are also becoming more commonplace, often impacting vulnerable populations, and further impeding access to healthcare.
Access is typically clustered around densely populated regions, such as urban centres. Even then, many people are left out in the cold when it comes to access to healthcare services as wait times are unmanageably long and many people go untreated.
In a recent poll, it was found that 29 percent of adults have experienced chronic difficulty in accessing healthcare across Canada.
That’s roughly nine million Canadians struggling with access to healthcare.
This is a large proportion of the Canadian population, and in some provinces, this is a crisis. These areas are functioning in healthcare deserts.
What Are Healthcare Access Deserts?
Healthcare deserts are pockets of populations or geographic locations where access to healthcare is severely limited or non-existent.
There are many regions in Canada (and around the world) that have healthcare deserts, which disproportionately impact marginalized and racialized people. Those populations then suffer from worsening health conditions, poorer quality of life, and an overall reduction in community-wide prosperity. That’s not a cost anyone can afford.
Healthcare deserts have been an ongoing issue for some time now, and have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Particularly in regions that are more remote, healthcare is hard to come by.
But thinking within the constraints of antiquated healthcare systems that we currently work within – in-person appointments, particularly – does nothing to address these growing gaps.
Solutions that improve access to healthcare include virtual and digital tools. Our healthcare system has never been more ready for this change. The cost of not addressing this is too steep.
What is the Cost of Inaccessible Healthcare?
While our healthcare system takes a considerable amount of public funding, not investing in high-quality and accessible healthcare is even costlier.
People with poorer access to healthcare tend to become sicker, stay sicker, miss more days of work, and overall have worse life outcomes. This can become costly to communities, and continues to entrench inequities in healthcare access – folks who need access the most aren’t getting it.
This is no longer a cost that we can afford. Everyone – patients, healthcare practitioners, and healthcare decision-makers – need a better solution.
How Can We Work Towards a System-Wide Solution?
A system-wide solution is one that bridges the gap between healthcare practitioners and patients. This is a multi-pronged approach that requires a streamlined funneling system, a virtual triage system, and access to virtual appointments and sound healthcare advice.
Creating a streamlined solution to address everyone’s needs is the way forward. This solution needs to be accessible, flexible, and digital.
The vast majority of patients already have access to digital devices such as laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. Leveraging these tools gives clinicians the opportunity to access patients from any region, regardless of how remote.
Digital solutions like Digital Front Door can be the bridge between patients who need access and the healthcare providers who can help. Digital tools remove unnecessary burdens of:
- Outdated processes that require face-to-face interactions
- Redundant administrative processes that cost time
- Mental and physical labour
- Unnecessary fiscal spending
This solution can vastly improve quality of care, access, and help bolster communities to become healthier and more prosperous. That’s a solution we all need.
A Solution-Oriented Digital Approach
Bridging the accessibility gap in our healthcare is the only way through the bottlenecked and overburdened systems we have now.
The system is ready for change. In a global survey of newer healthcare professionals, 81 percent said technology has the potential to ease workloads, while 67 percent believe that digital technology can reduce chronic stress levels.
This is hope for the future of healthcare, translating into reducing the accessibility gap across our provinces.
Digital solutions like a digital front door can help relieve pressure on clinicians and become the primary point of entrance for patients to healthcare – from wherever they are. A digital front door is an omni-channel engagement strategy that combines the tools and technology needed to engage and assist patients at every touchpoint of their healthcare journey. It can help ensure more patients access the services they need, and funnel them to the right healthcare provider faster.
Solutions like Digital Front Door can improve access to healthcare by providing:
- Virtual care
- Mobile applications
- Chatbots to help funnel patients to the right healthcare provider
- Website/web portal access
- Voice and/or phone chat options
- Search directories
- Care pathways
Solutions like digital front door allow patients to check their symptoms and get real-time advice from qualified practitioners, all online. This redirects ED traffic, while ensuring patients receive the care they need from anywhere – including remote and underserved regions.
All of the healthcare processes that digital solutions provide are automated, ensuring that information is up-to-date, accurate, and easily accessed by all relevant clinicians, regardless of geographical location. This is just another way that digital healthcare can help close the healthcare gap across Canada – and even around the world.
By providing quality care to everyone, we work towards healthier communities that have the potential to flourish. It’s clear that digital healthcare is the way forward, providing access to healthcare for everyone, everywhere.
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