British Columbia

Innovation, not just cash, will cure healthcare woes, Philpott tells doctors

"We need to think big if this is going to change," Health Minister Jane Philpott tells doctors at Canadian Medical Association conference in Vancouver.

Federal health minister addressed CMA annual meeting in Vancouver on Tuesday

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott answers questions from reporters after addressing the Canadian Medical Association's General Council 2016, in Vancouver. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The problems facing Canada's healthcare system will not be solved by just spending more money, Health Minister Jane Philpott said Tuesday as she promised the country's doctors the federal government is committed to finding innovative solutions.

Ongoing talks about a new health agreement with the provinces and territories is an opportunity to set healthcare on a new course, she told the Canadian Medical Association's annual meeting in Vancouver.

She said solutions can be found in encouraging better collaboration between family doctors and specialists, using digital technology to keep records and share information, and giving greater priority to the social factors that affect health, particularly among Aboriginal Peoples.

Philpott drew applause from association members at the meeting when she said social inequity is the biggest barrier to improving the health of Canadians.

"The most perverse inequity is among Aboriginal communities," she said. "It's far past time for us to do something about this."

Other countries, including Britain and Australia, are getting better healthcare outcomes than Canada while spending less per capita and as a percentage of GDP because they have done a better job of coordinating care, Philpott said.

She also highlighted the need to strengthen primary care, telling the audience that countries with systems rooted in primary care provided by general practitioners have the best outcomes at the lowest costs.

She said negotiations on a new health care agreement are an opportunity to "trigger" the innovation needed to fix the system, telling the doctors that those who think Canada is stuck with its current system are wrong.

"This is small thinking. You and I know we need to think big if this is going to change," Philpott added.

The association has identified securing the resources needed to care for the country's aging population as a pressing need in a new health accord. It has developed several recommendations it would like to see in a new agreement, including more funding for provinces with larger populations of seniors, coverage of prescription drugs, and funding for long-term care, home care and caregivers.

Philpott said suggestions that the aging population will overwhelm the system is one of the myths facing healthcare in Canada.

She said part of the solution can be found in Ontario, where the province spends $55 a day to provide a person with care in their home. With seniors and their families preferring treatment at home, more needs to be done to achieve that goal, she said, adding that despite the cost efficiency only about five per cent of provincial health budgets goes to fund home care.