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By Charlie Fischer
and Judy Birdsell
IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health

It’s positive that the government of Alberta and physicians have created a working group to find a way to reach common ground in the current dispute over the doctors’ cancelled contract.

Yet, IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health, a citizen-led organization that aspires to support Albertans in efforts to shape the future of health care, is deeply concerned by the potential negative effects of the dispute. The risks include:

  • Unhappy, unhealthy, stressed care providers result in poorer outcomes for patients.
  • The potential for physicians to leave the province, disrupting the all-important aspect of continuous care and the relationship with one’s primary health-care team. Continuity of relationships with care providers is an important factor in positive health outcomes.
  • Lost confidence in the ability of the health system to provide care in times of urgent need. Tension between powerful players in the province doesn’t instil confidence.
Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

There are clearly many sides to the ongoing discussions in the province – physicians are upset by decisions of the government; government is trying to control costs; Alberta Health Services aspires to have an integrated health system in the province.

With a great deal of rhetoric in the public sphere, there’s very little focus on what this all means for everyday Albertans. The health-care system in theory exists for the benefit of Albertans. We pay the bills, yet we’re not at the table.

A patient is the only person present at every health-care encounter in their health journey. A home base or foundation (typically a family doctor or primary care network) for one’s health journey is critical. IMAGINE Citizens hears this in many conversations and consultations with Albertans.

This home base, in combination with a complete, accurate and fully accessible health record, are the foundation for each individual’s health journey.

Progress has been made on these two fronts – primary health care and digital personal health records – in the past few years. A spirit of collaboration, respect and trust among key players/partners is critical to continue to make progress. Patients and named beneficiaries need to be full partners in these deliberations.

Judy Birdsell

Judy Birdsell

Town hall meetings and letters written these past couple of weeks make it clear that Albertans are having a bit of a crash course in key aspects of our health eco-system. There’s much more to learn, so we as citizens can have an effective voice in shaping the future. All the powerful parties in this dialogue (physicians, government, Alberta Health Services) have key roles to play.

We implore everyday Albertans to get involved in the conversation – so we each have confidence in the health services we receive when we need them.

There are positive changes arising from the current situation:

  • Albertans have been spurred to action because of perceived threats to highly valued services and relationships in home communities. We’re asking questions, learning more and speaking up. Active engagement of Albertans in health-care conversations is very positive.
  • There’s increased interest and opportunity for citizens to create expectations for accountability and transparency from all publicly-funded providers and services. What return are we getting for our significant investments in health care? In work recently initiated by IMAGINE Citizens, we’ve learned that there’s a lot of data collected that could be, but is not, used to help us improve our health outcomes.

Town hall meetings (many organized by citizens) have laid the ground work to return (or achieve) a sense of community ownership for health. With the heightened awareness as a result of recent events, we have the opportunity for communities to assert their rightful role in influencing health.

Experts estimate that formal health-care services contribute only 25 per cent to our health. Some can be attributed to genetics and biology (which we can’t influence) but the single largest contributor to health – how we live our daily lives at home and in our communities – we absolutely can influence.

With local tensions and the threatening global health challenges, it’s critical that we citizens educate ourselves and claim our space in the decisions affecting our health.

Judy Birdsell and Charlie Fischer are founders and board members of IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health. Charlie recently received the Order of Canada in recognition of his lifelong leadership in the energy sector and community causes, including advocacy in health care. Judy has been a consultant in health research policy and has received three national awards for her contributions in the health charitable sector.

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Health care users contract dispute

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