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A prescription for health-care reform: Think integration and collaboration

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Yesterday morning the CCPA released a new report (co-authored by yours truly) that looks at the thorny issue of health-care reform in B.C. (and Canada) and identifies some practical, evidence-based strategies that have been successful in improving quality of care and controlling costs in other jurisdictions.

The paper comes out at a time when all Canadian provinces face significant pressure to reduce the rate of growth of health spending while continuing to improve access and quality of care but when there is no agreement on the specific changes needed to ensure that public health-care dollars are more efficiently utilized. As a result, individual provinces are experimenting with a variety of reforms. In B.C., the two major policy options being introduced are an activity-based funding (ABF) model for hospital surgical procedures; and an integrated model for caring for people with chronic conditions and complex needs in the community. Though both of these are formally priorities of the Ministry of Health, ABF is receiving the vast majority of the financial resources and technical expertise.

Our paper raises serious concerns that the current preoccupation with reforming hospital funding is simply too narrow to effectively address B.C.'s most pressing health-care challenges, many of which have roots outside the hospitals (in our inadequately funded community-care system). This is why we titled our report Beyond the Hospital Walls: Activity Based Funding Versus Integrated Health Care Reform.

The current focus on ABF is a reflection of the conventional, hospital-centric model of health care that our system was built on. While this worked well to meet the health-care needs of Canadians in the 1960s, it's outdated in the 21st century when chronic disease management -- which is better handled in the community, not the hospital -- is increasingly becoming a pressing concern.

But what's worse is that ABF is not just a distraction from the real problems in our health-care system: it may actually reinforce the silos and fragmentation within the health-care system, hindering efforts to improve overall system integration and coherence (this stand in the way of priority No. 2). This is why jurisdictions where ABF has been in place for a number of years are increasingly looking to move away from it towards funding mechanisms that create incentives for integration across the system (among hospitals, family doctors and community-care services like long-term care and home support).

The paper outlines a strategy for health-care reform that is timely, practical and evidence-based, and that will address the root causes of problems in our health-care system.

Our review of the international evidence on health systems reform suggests that the best-performing systems are the ones that have developed mechanisms to collaborate and share accountability across services and providers. The key to their success is understanding the patient experience across the continuum of diverse health services the patient needs at any one time. High performing health systems are organized in a way that allows providers to be jointly accountable for providing cost-effective care in whichever venue is medically appropriate -- the patient's home, the family doctor's office or the hospital. There are many examples of how this can be done, both internationally and from our own backyard (Northern Health Authority is a leader in this area). All that's needed is for the B.C. government to show leadership, look at the evidence, and actually implement the initiatives that have proven successful province-wide.

We hope that Canada's premiers, who are currently meeting to discuss health care in Victoria, find a way to avoid getting bogged down by narrow issues like hospital funding reform and engage in a broader discussion of how to improve quality, increase access and ensure the cost effectiveness of the overall health-care system.

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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