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Body Politic #5: Our unhealthy addiction to health care

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Do Canadians consume too much health care? Illustration by Graham F. Scott.

Do Canadians consume too much health care? Illustration by Graham F. Scott.

When we’re put on wait lists, or stand in line at clinics, or fall asleep in waiting rooms it’s easy to think that there’s something wrong with Canada’s health care system. We need more doctors, we need more nurses, we need more surgeons — we need a better way to get better.

But what if the problem is that we really need less? Instead of more we just need to settle down, stop worrying so much about our health – and ease up on the instant and free care that we expect?

In an essay for the Literary Review of Canada posted in November (sorry for the tardiness!), Charles J. Wright makes the case that, as Canadians, we have too much health care. He says that health care has far surpassed what was envisioned when national medicare was recommended. And that’s a problem:

“The fact that continuous limitless growth of health services cannot possibly be sustained—in any system—is a fairly recent realization that still seems to escape many providers and politicians alike.”

He goes on to note that it’s “absurd” to focus on creating more services—and obtaining more funding—to help improve our health care system at its current state.

“It is absurd to imagine that any healthcare system can continue to provide all possible health benefits to all people at all times no matter how small the benefit and how great the cost.”

Instead, he says, there’s a shocking silence when it comes to discussing how we can cut down on our health care usage—how to stop the addiction to care that has us flooding clinics and hospitals.

I write about this essay not because I completely agree, but because it’s interesting to note that we often state what more we want from health care, as opposed to what we should be doing to take a load off our current system.

For one, Wright argues that we’re over-medicated, and that we need to step back from prescribed treatments to analyze if they’re really needed. For instance, common ailments including high cholesterol and low bone-density were once considered insignificant but are now vigorously treated. He even goes on to discuss the fact that mammography, common as it is, isn’t really saving as many lives through early diagnosis as we thought—an issue that I touched upon a few weeks ago in this blog.

Preventative measures to common medical problems is also a tense issue in the medical community, especially when they concern methods that aren’t exactly “medical.” Wright mentions to the push to cover anti-cancer drugs in his piece, but what about those who turn to ayurvedic methods in the belief that it’ll keep them healthy? Where do we draw the line on what’s approved and what’s just “new age,” and could that ease the pressure on traditional health care? Is adding anti-cancer medicine to our french fries really the best way to medicate not only ourselves, but our health system as well?

I’m surprised that the article didn’t garner a bit more attention: certainly it brings up a valid point. In the end, we’ll always want what we want, when we want it—including good health—and that doesn’t exclude medical attention.

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