Little Faith That Government Will Reach Goal for Health Care Teams – Survey Analysis

Health care continues to be a priority for CARP ActionOnline readers who registered an eye-popping number of responses – over 5,700 at last count. That figure alone should be enough to get the attention of health care policy makers.

We were testing the questions mooted in the recent Health Council of Canada [HCC] report on primary health care teams [HCTs]. One objective of the 2003 Health Accord was to have 50% of Canadians treated by primary HCTs by 2011. As stated in the Report: “The theory is that although team-based care can be more expensive than a doctor alone, the increased health promotion and chronic disease management that teams provide will improve people’s health and therefore reduce their use of other health services, including costly hospitalizations.”

Unfortunately, there is little faith that this goal will be achieved. Only 9 % of respondents thought the goal would be reached. Those who were treated by primary HCTs were a bit more optimistic [15%]. But a full 39% did not know, which leads to the question of whether there is any broad awareness of what the government has supposedly been promoting.

The HCC said it could not definitively report on the penetration of primary health care teams because the provinces each had their own definition of what such a team would be.

Our survey defined a primary health care team as a family doctor who practices with other medical professionals including nurse practitioners, nutritionists and social workers and the key is that the patient has contact with these other practitioners.

Without a consistent definition, the HCC states that they were “unable to report how many Canadians have access to collaborative teams” but our survey offers detailed answers – complete with regional comparisons.

Only 17% are being served by a primary HCT. Penetration of teams is highest in Ontario (19%) and in rural communities/small towns (22%). Respondents with 2 or more chronic conditions are more likely to be treated by teams. The good news is that very few people are without a family doctor (4%). Incidence of not having a family doctor is much higher in Quebec (13%) than elsewhere.

There is good news too. The vast majority of respondents say their health care needs are met (83%), and this is most common in Atlantic Canada (86%) and less common in Quebec (78%). Respondents treated by HCTs who have one or no chronic conditions are more likely than others to say their health care needs are met (93%).

One third of respondents describe the health care they receive as “excellent” (38%), while a further half describe it as “good” (47%), for a total of 85%. High ratings of health care are most common in Atlantic Canada, among those treated by HCTs and those with no chronic conditions.

The HCC Report agonizes over not having a consistent definition of a HCT. We would suggest that our readers have a fair enough idea of what is needed and what is serving their needs and governments would be well advised to just get on with it. Uniformity is always preferable but not if it hinders progress to better health care.