Health care spending is often one place politicians look to for cost cutting measures. Why? Take the BC health care budget for example: As per the BC Government's Fiscal Plan, total health spending will reach $19.3 billion, or more than 42 per cent of all government expenses by 2015-16. This is an increase in spending of $2.4 billion over three years. Nearly half of all tax dollars pay for health care, yet we are still seeing a surge in wait times for testing, referrals and surgeries. With our aging population, we can expect these waits and costs to rise significantly. Plus, over 100,000 British Columbians who would like a family doctor still don't have one. Is more money really the solution to the problem or can we find greater efficiencies in the system so our money is spent more wisely? Some studies suggest that opportunities do exist.
The Manga Report, named after the principal investigator, Pran Manga Ph.D., M. Phil., was commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Health and to date is the most comprehensive analysis of scientific literature related to low back pain. This report found that if the 33% of medical doctor's office visits for musculoskeletal conditions were instead directed towards chiropractic doctors, our Canadian health care system would see a relief of $4 billion based on 2010 figures. Chiropractic Research Chair, Dr. Jason Busse at McMaster University is also conducting research that supports this finding, concluding that many medical doctors are simply not confident about treating low back pain and instead refer for costly medical imaging or surgical consult. The majority of these referrals do not influence or assist in diagnosis or treatment, making them a waste to the health care system.
Improved safety in the health care system also has the potential to save tax payers some money. There are an estimated 24,000 deaths per year due to medical mistakes, however, this number is likely higher given that there is no formal or mandatory reporting process for adverse events. Simple things such as wrong medications, misplaced charts and improper hand washing commonly cause accidents which can lead to extended hospital stays, more medical interventions or even worse. These mistakes are costly and there are little to no structures in place to mitigate the risks.
Education is ultimately your number one asset when it comes to taking control of their health. Know your body, understand all of the health providers available to you and determine the best choice for care based on effectiveness, risk and personal experience. With a more informed public we can address the inefficiencies and costs of our currently unsustainable health care system.
Dr. Don Nixdorf is the author of Squandering Billions: Healthcare in Canada