In this time of turmoil south of the border and around the world, we are reminded of the importance of our Canadian health care system. As a country, we take pride in our socialized medicine that provides adequate healthcare for all – but no system is perfect. Perhaps the most important area in which patients need further support is in preventative health planning.
The Medical Quarterback
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in ten years of practicing family medicine, it’s that if you want to take control of your health, it is essential that you have a quarterback to guide you. Just as you might hire a personal trainer to keep you accountable to exercise, or a life coach to guide your vision, your family doctor is one of your most valuable health advocates. Your family doctor should be the person you trust to guide your mental and physical wellbeing. More than that, your MD is the best person to advocate for you in our current health care system.
But there’s a catch: your family doctor has only 10 to 15 minutes for each visit, so how are they supposed to talk prevention with you? The Canadian government reimburses physicians via Medical Services Plan (MSP) about $30 to $40 per visit based on the patient’s age and location – not the problem or time spent. This creates an environment in which patients are often unable to ask questions, or feel rushed or guilty for taking the doctor’s time. Physicians spending more time with patients can lead to crowded waiting rooms and lengthy wait times.
If you are a healthy individual with no chronic conditions or unhealthy habits, and would like to engage in preventative health planning with your physician, it may not be covered by your MSP plan. You may need to do it privately – which means you need to pay. The question is: should you?
The answer, of course, is absolutely. Prevention will be the hallmark of our medical health in the future. Preventative health planning, counselling and check-ups will give your family doctor a baseline to work from, empowering him or her to guide your medical care over time.
Your medical history, family history, mental health, physical examinations, and the details of your life and relationships over the years will inform and instruct your doctor. He or she can requisition the appropriate tests and investigations, while avoiding unnecessary testing that can be very costly and cause anxiety for the patient. Armed with all this information, your doctor will understand the current state of your health and be able to plan a yearly health review with you.
A Vision for a Healthy Future
There are many phenomenal physicians advocating for Medicare and healthcare policies, but my vision is to give all patients across Canada ownership of their health. Patients need to be as connected as possible to their family doctors, who can work in conjunction with health care providers covered or not, including physiotherapists, massage therapist, dentists, optometrists and traditional Chinese doctors. When we work together towards preventative health, it translates into better health for patients, and decreased burden on the universal Canadian health care system. Perhaps, that way, preventative health can one day be covered for all patients.
The key to this universal preventative health movement is to give ownership to the patient, while giving the family doctor the role of quarterback. Until the day when preventative health is covered by Medicare, the biggest investment you can make in your healthcare is to get to know your family doctor, and together come up with a preventative health plan – even if it may cost you outside of MSP coverage. After all, the best investment you can make is in your health.
My hope is that one day, we will understand the importance of preventative health and the role of family doctors in overseeing it; and that preventative health will be covered for all individuals. One day, a universal preventative language will be spoken amongst all health care professionals, conventional or nonconventional, for the better health of all patients.
Dr. Maryam Zeineddin was born in Tehran and lived in Athens, London and Stockholm prior to moving to Vancouver more than two decades ago. She completed her B.Sc. (hon) in physiology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). After volunteering at a children’s hospital in Honduras, Dr. Zeineddin returned to UBC to attend medical school. She then attended two years of family practice residency at UBC St.Paul’s program and the day after the completion of her residency program she started her family practice office. She manages a group based clinic and they offer full service family practice including preventative health and lifestyle counselling. Dr. Zeineddin is also an avid teacher and faculty for UBC family practice residency program. Her quest is to pursue the most comprehensive patient centered care with preventative health measures as the key element of healthy living.
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