Shakespeare Got It Right

Dr Duckett may be gone but he won’t soon be forgotten.  In his farewell speech to senior AHS staffers he set the record straight with a number of provocative comments.  The most significant of which was this:  “Alberta spends more per capita (adjusted for age and sex) than other Canadian provinces and gets less”. Is this really true?  If so, does that mean that there is no direct relationship between healthcare spending and the quality of healthcare service?

Bingo:  It’s not how much you spend, but how you spend it.

CHCI data shows that in 2010 Alberta spent $4295 per capita on healthcare but ranked #7 in healthcare performance.  Ontario and BC, which ranked #1 and #2, spent $3547 and $3543.  Let’s just call it $3545 even.  That’s $750 less per person than Alberta.  But Ontario and BC succeeded in being the top ranked provinces in healthcare performance—for three straight years.

One reason for this perverse outcome is that greater spending doesn’t guarantee greater value.  In fact if an organization refuses to measure its outcomes, the value equation is completely meaningless.  Dr John Cowell, CEO of the Health Quality Council of Alberta, believes that Alberta’s healthcare system does not adequately measure the output (good health) or the cost of that output (cost per clinical outcome).  Consequently it cannot systematically assess value or sustainability.  In other words Alberta taxpayers are throwing a lot of money at this problem–$15 billion to be exact—but the government and AHS have yet to figure out how to get the best value for those tax dollars and the people of Alberta continue to suffer.

The non-relationship between healthcare spending and healthcare performance also plays out on the global stage.  The Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index (ECHCI) 2010 ranks Canada’s healthcare performance at 25th out of the 34 countries surveyed.  And yet with a per capita spending rate of $3662, Canada is one of the highest per capita spenders in the group.  Only 3 countries outspent Canada.  They are Switzerland (ranked 5th) Luxembourg (ranked 8th) and Norway (ranked 11th), all performed significantly better than Canada at #25.  Twenty-one countries spent less than Canada but still outperformed it in healthcare delivery.

Given that Canada’s and Alberta’s healthcare problems do not stem from a lack of money, it is unlikely that throwing more money into the healthcare budget will improve the situation.  So what will help?  Before we busy ourselves with sharing best practices and learning from others, let’s be frank about what is getting in the way of delivering good performance.

Cue Dr Duckett.  The ex-CEO’s speech is laced with comments alluding to the problems created by continual political meddling and missteps.  He notes that “The media along with politicians only see the short term and often fail to connect the dots” and that “ The AHS operates in a politically charged environment.” He describes the government’s failure to provide adequate funding for long term and non-acute care facilities which exacerbated the ER crisis and notes, rather pointedly, that the government failed to keep its commitment to fund universities and colleges to graduate 2000 nurses a year and that further funds are needed to train 1000 health care aides a year in order to truly transform the workplace.


This brings me to the ECHCI discussion about the Netherlands which ranked #1 in performance in 2010 and has ranked in the top three since 2005.  In addition to the organization of its healthcare insurance system (a topic for a future discussion) the authors note that the Netherlands healthcare system has removed politicians and bureaucrats from key decision making processes, leaving the operative healthcare decisions to the medical professionals.  They state that politicians and bureaucrats seem to be further removed from these decisions in theNetherlands than any other country in the indexand argue that this is “an important reason for the Netherland’s outstanding performance.”

So taking a cue from Shakespeare (but without the fatal consequences) might I suggest that the first thing we do is get rid of the politicians and let the medical professionals make the operative healthcare decisions.  Surely they wouldn’t do any worse.

This entry was posted in Alberta Health Care, Politics and Government and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Shakespeare Got It Right

  1. Sheila O'Brien says:

    Well said Susan, as usual. This is an excellent discussion forum. Would that the politicians read it.

    • Thanks for the feedback Sheila. I’ve been corresponding by email with a number of politicians on both sides of the aisle. The opposition MLAs–Dave Taylor and Kevin Taft–are happy to engage in a dialogue and have provided me with reference materials, while others like David Swann and Dr Raj Shermann thanked me for my interest and left it at that. The PC MLAs–the Premier, the Health Minister, Mr Zwozdesky and Mr Weadick, the MLA for the Lethbridge-Medicine Hat (the only area that is doing quite well in health service delivery) have been conspicously silent. Why am I not surprised.

  2. Rose Marie MacKenzie says:

    The chef in a restaurant chooses the menu, the rock star picks the songs for his concert and I make up the grocery list because I do the cooking in my household. Sounds like a good plan to have the medical profession make decisions about what is and is not needed to improve productivity. Very good point Susan.

    • Yes, you would think this would be a good common sense approach wouldn’t you, but the politicians apparently don’t trust the medical professionals to figure it out. And to make matters worse they’ve add the AHS Board to the mix (all PC appointees by the way). This structure gives the PCs yet another way to control the delivery of healthcare. The end result is that healthcare costs continue to rise and healthcare service continues to deteriorate. Not a very workable plan. Thanks for the feedback Rose Marie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s