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Canadian Medical Association on the State of Senior Health Care

Kimberley Fowler
By Kimberley FowlerDecember 28, 2016

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recently published The State of Seniors Health Care in Canada, a comprehensive document which recognizes that Canada’s health care system is not working as it was designed to, especially when it comes to caring for our senior population.

Learn more from the CMA about the state of senior health care in Canada.

State of Senior Health Care in Canada

“The aging of Canada’s population is one of the most pressing policy imperatives of our time, and will have a huge impact on health care, social services and the economy,” writes Dr. Granger Avery, President of the Canadian Medical Association.

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“To be truly relevant and effectively respond to Canadians’ present and future needs, our health care system must provide integrated, continuing care able to meet the chronic and complex care needs of our growing and aging population,” he says.

The report summarizes the major problematic areas of our health care system in regards to senior care and includes a list of recommendations for the federal and provincial governments, as well as other groups, organizations and associations involved in the continuum of care for Canadian seniors.

Problem Areas for Seniors in the System

Most Canadians are in agreement that, although we take pride in our universal health care system, it’s far from perfect. In fact, the report found that:

90% of Canadians agree that Canada needs a national seniors strategy to address needs along the full continuum of care. It also found that 83% of Canadians believe a seniors strategy would benefit the entire health care system.

“Despite the hard work of physicians, nurses and many other health care professionals who care for patients each and every day, a system that is cherished by Canadians from coast to coast is no longer keeping pace,” Dr. Avery says. The report identifies key problem areas within our health care system, problems that are experienced by seniors across the country, including:

  • A lack of collaborative approaches to improve the way changes are made to our health care system
  • Discontinuity of care
  • Excessive wait times
  • Inequality in care across the country
  • Lack of recognition of the increased role for patient and family caregivers in the care process
  • Poor efforts to improve the social determinants of health and healthy living
  • Poor patient information transfer

“Canada does not provide care in a seamless and cohesive way,” Dr. Avery writes in the Foreward. “We provide high quality care to patients, but all too often they have waited far too long to receive it.”

Strategy for Senior Health Care in Canada

The timing of the release of The State of Seniors Health Care in Canada is no coincidence. The federal government has agreed to negotiate a new pan-Canadian health accord, which provides “an excellent opportunity to chart a national plan for seniors care,” the report authors point out.

According to the CMA’s report, this national seniors strategy should include:

  • A coordinated national approach to reduce polypharmacy in the elderly
  • Development of innovative and alternative models/partnerships that can provide services and resources for patients’ seamless transition through the continuum of care
  • Evidence-based hospital practices that better meet seniors’ physical, cognitive and psychosocial needs
  • Improved training, resource allocation and incentives to help primary care physicians develop robust, around-the-clock services for frail and elderly Canadians living in the community
  • The development of guidelines and standards for the use of telemonitoring technology
  • The inclusion of adequate, evidence-based support for family caregivers.

Recommendations to Provide a Continuum of Care in Canada

Although such initiatives are greatly needed, bringing these ideas from policy to practice will be a challenge for the federal, provincial and municipal governments. Governments and community organizations at all levels will need to invest the money and time to move our patchwork system of care to the true continuum of care that seniors need.

Our health care system should aim to provide seniors with easy access to the level of care they need, ensuring “a timely and smooth transition from one level of care to another,” the CMA reports, recommending a focus on:

  • Creating an age friendly society
  • Ensuring a comprehensive continuum of care that includes the following health services:
    • Chronic disease management programs
    • Home care
    • Long-term care
    • Palliative care
    • Primary health care
    • Specialist care
  • Focusing on healthy living and healthy aging

The report also points out that it’s important the continuum of care is managed in a way to allow seniors to “remain at home, out of emergency departments, hospitals and long-term care facilities unless appropriate.”

What do you think about the state of senior health care in Canada? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

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Kimberley Fowler
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