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Adding more doctors and nurses won’t improve Canada’s health care

Opinion: Wait times in healthcare are often related to diagnostic testing to determine what is happening with a patient.

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There is an emerging consensus that Canada’s healthcare system is in crisis.

Media stories daily describe the horrors Canadians are experiencing trying to access timely, quality health care. It is tempting to assume that the media is being histrionic, that representatives of the health professions, like me, are exaggerating their arguments.

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It’s equally tempting to think of our failing health care system the same way we think of supply chain problems, inflation, and the challenges facing the service industry, as remnants of the pandemic’s effects that will get better on their own. alone with time. .

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Unfortunately, the collapse of our healthcare system is not just a result of the pandemic. COVID-19 was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Health care in Canada is on the brink of collapse due to decades of willful ignorance and inaction by decision-makers at all levels of government and across the country. Not only was everything predictable: it was predicted.

So if our current crisis is not a result of the pandemic, what exactly is the problem?

Too often governments have ignored the fact that healthcare is people. That is, without healthcare workers, we have nothing but empty healthcare facilities. Advertisements promoting large investments in new hospitals, machines and other infrastructure often lack any mention of the people needed to transform these investments into real increases in healthcare delivery capacity.

When governments do bother to include healthcare providers in their proposed solutions, they are almost exclusively doctors and nurses. Of course, we need more nurses and doctors. However, having more of them will not result in significant improvements to our system until the number of other healthcare professionals is also addressed.

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For example, wait times in hospital emergency rooms are often used as a measure of the health of our healthcare system, but the bottleneck is not just the care of doctors and nurses. By adding more doctors and nurses, patients could be evaluated more quickly (an important metric), but they will likely wait the same amount of time simply at another stage in the process.

In most cases, emergency doctors need diagnostic tests to determine what is happening to a patient. And these tests are performed by medical radiation technologists (MRT) who perform x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. Ultrasounds are performed by sonographers. Blood tests and other tests are performed by medical laboratory technologists and medical laboratory assistants. Diagnostic testing is also critical to the health care Canadians receive in other settings.

Effective healthcare requires teamwork. Any effort to get us out of the mess will have to reflect this fact and address the staffing needs of many healthcare professions.

And this situation is everywhere, not just in the diagnosis. Many of the MRTs in our association work as radiation therapists and treat cancer patients. Shortages in their ranks over the past few months have led to reductions in cancer care services for patients.

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The list of what I call “invisible healthcare workers” is long. We are missing them too.

We are at a crossroads: governments can continue doing what they have been doing for a long time; They may even do it with greater intensity and spend more money. But as the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Our healthcare system is on life support. Coming off life support only occurs for one of two reasons: either the patient shows signs of improvement or it is determined that there is no hope for recovery.

Right now, the patient is our healthcare system. Its destiny will be determined by the will of those who have the capacity to implement change and to include all health professionals in their strategies.

Irving Gold is the executive director of the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists.

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