The compounding effects of three deadly waves of COVID-19 infections on the physical and mental health of Canadians is beginning to be understood, as the country’s missing patients start to reveal themselves.
Research by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) has shown that there has been a dramatic drop of almost 16 million health-care services during the pandemic. That’s more than one health-care service not performed for every Ontario resident this year.
On top of this backlog of surgeries, diagnostic exams and other procedures, family physicians and community specialists are seeing conditions that were left undetected during the pandemic when patients avoided seeking help or could not access care as governments put a pause on non-emergency services.
Without preventative care and management of chronic conditions, patients are showing up sicker. Some are being diagnosed with cancers, heart conditions or diabetes they didn’t know they had. Previously diagnosed chronic conditions have grown more serious. More significant interventions are required, assuming it’s not too late.
Catching up is an enormous and complex task, and it is only the first step of many required for a full pandemic recovery.
For existing resources to have maximum impact, our immediate priorities must be ensuring patients have the testing, procedures and surgeries they need; resuming preventative primary care and screening; making it possible for patients to have the care they need when they leave hospital; and addressing the growing mental health and addictions issues in our society.
The most challenging public health crisis of our generation is an opportunity to do this — and even more.
Over the course of the pandemic, the health-care system has been transformed in ways — and at a pace — we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. As the focus begins to shift from COVID patients back to all patients, health-care planning for the post-pandemic environment must command the same intensity of attention, targeted resources and openness to doing things in new ways.
All partners in health care must work together. That includes those on the front lines, the family doctors who prevent illness, specialists who perform procedures or operate, and those who provide rehabilitative care for patients at home and in the community. This will also require input from system planners and partnership with government.
If we take the time to do things right, what will emerge will be a fundamentally different health-care system.
While health care stepped up in extraordinary ways during the pandemic, the past 16 months have also exposed gaps in the system and revealed ways in which we can do better.
We learned we must ensure our seniors are treated with the care and respect they deserve, whether that’s in a long-term setting or in their own homes.
We learned we must work to close the inequities underscored during the pandemic, ensuring marginalized populations, racialized communities and those most vulnerable are not left behind.
We must ensure we are prepared for the next emergency by addressing things such as vaccine supply and the equipment physicians need.
We must make use of the latest technology so that our systems are integrated and the patient experience is smoother.
We must find the right balance of virtual and in-person care.
We must create more access to mental health services, and we must address burnout in our medical community.
Those are just a few of the issues we must grapple with as we emerge from the pandemic, and we know there are many more. It will be a marathon, not a sprint as we imagine a pandemic recovery in which health care emerges even better, stronger than it was before.
We don’t have all the answers. And that’s why doctors are asking the people of Ontario to help us think through what the future of health care could look like; what it should look like.
Through the OMA’s public survey, a series of round tables, and consultations with other health-care providers and community leaders, doctors are developing a plan that will recommend the bold ideas necessary to take us through the recovery phase and well into the future.
We encourage everyone to speak up. Have your say at www.betterhealthcare.ca, and help shape the future of health care with us.
Used with permission from the Toronto Star: thestar.com. Copyright Toronto Star. All rights reserved.