Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Canada’s doctors, nurses and orderlies are working heroically to treat and care for the people stricken with COVID-19 who need hospitalization.

The nimbleness with which hospitals have adapted is impressive. So it is depressing to think that, when life returns to normal, our health care systems and the governments that fund them will fall back into old habits: hospitals operating at above 100-per-cent capacity; a lack of beds; overflowing emergency rooms.

It’s much more pleasant to imagine that the current crisis will inspire changes for the better, in a system that badly needs improvement.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2017, Canadian medicare was ranked ninth out of 11 Western countries in a respected survey of health care systems from the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based research institute. (Last place? The United States. Of course.) Canada’s most serious failings relate to wait times.

In 2019, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) said wait times in emergency rooms are getting longer in many provinces. Ontario set a new record in June, 2019, for the average time it took for a person to arrive at an ER and be admitted to hospital: 16.3 hours – double the eight-hour target set by the province.

Reading stats such as that, it’s hard to believe that our provincial health care systems were able to rise to the challenge of COVID-19. But as the past month has shown, the system can change, and fast, when the status quo is no longer possible.

Here are three urgent areas for improvement that the crisis has reinforced.

1. Empty hospitals of patients who don’t need to be there: Hospital beds are a choke point in the system. When they’re full, everything backs up. In the pandemic emergency, freeing up beds has meant cancelling elective surgeries. Doing so has been terribly hard on people waiting for procedures to relieve them of chronic pain, and even for such things as cancer treatments, but it had to be done.

In other words, if the will is there, beds can be emptied. In postcrisis Canada, that will mean discharging patients who no longer need acute care. Many of these people require a bed in a long-term care facility, not a regular hospital. This has been a chronic issue, on which progress has been slow in spite of endless discussion about it.

Until the rest of the health care system has the capacity to meet growing long-term-care needs, the burden will continue to fall on hospitals. The problems this creates have never been clearer.

Story continues below advertisement

2. Keep people out of the ER: One of the unintended consequences of the pandemic is that many hospital emergency rooms are relatively quiet. That’s in part because people are thinking twice about heading to one, and are more willing to ride out a problem at home.

But it shouldn’t be on ordinary Canadians to diagnose what counts as a medical emergency, and what doesn’t. The real issue is that far too many people don’t have access to a family doctor during the evening and on weekends, which forces them into the ER.

The 2019 Commonwealth Fund survey found that only 49 per cent of family doctors in Canada make alternative care provisions when their offices are closed – far below the average of 75 per cent in the countries surveyed.

It is beyond time for Canada’s primary care doctors, and the health care bureaucracy, to be organized to meet patients’ needs off-hours. Emergency rooms pick up the slack, because patients have no other options.

3. Embrace technology: Video conferencing has become a popular pastime for Canada’s self-isolating masses. It may thus come as a pleasant surprise to people in Ontario to know that family doctors and specialists in the province are allowed to bill the full rate of an in-person consultation for a video consultation. The Ontario Telemedicine Network, which pioneered video conferencing as a health care tool, says the daily number of consultations over its own network has increased by a factor of 10 during the pandemic.

Ontario patients can today use any platform they’d like to video conference with their family doctors about a runny nose, to follow up with specialist, to refill a prescription and for a host of other practical purposes without making an in-office visit.

Story continues below advertisement

Doctors across the country need to seize the moment, and reinvent the house call.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies