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Health care rights should be enshrined in patient charter: CMA

Giving Canadians universal access to prescription medication is one of the key changes needed to improve the nation's well-being, as well as the state of the health care system, says a new report from the Canadian Medical Association.

The group is also calling for the creation of a charter that would enshrine the rights of patients and ensure care is focused on them, changes to the incentive model to improve wait times and speedier adoption of new technology.

"We need health transformation and we need it now," CMA president Anne Doig told reporters Tuesday.

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The changes are outlined in a report designed to map out the most critical steps needed to fix the country's ailing health care system. Change is urgently needed, the report says, because of serious gaps and problems that are preventing many people from getting adequate care.

For instance, many Canadians don't have coverage for prescription drugs, which can present a huge financial burden. Others don't have access to key services because of geographical or socioeconomic barriers. Patients also face unacceptably long waits for various procedures, a critical issue that harms patient care and also points to larger inefficiencies in the health care system, the report says.

The document will serve as a focal point for the group's annual meeting scheduled to take place later this month.

Government leaders from across Canada need to start talking about the ideas presented by the CMA, Dr. Doig said, because the problems facing the health care system are only going to get worse as Canada's population ages and more strain is placed on the system.

"Even with its shortcomings, the present system will not be able to meet future needs," Dr. Doig said.

The report calls for five major changes to help improve the state of the system, and the health of Canadians:

Building a culture of patient-centred care, including the creation of a charter that would enshrine the rights of patients

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Incentives for enhancing access and improving quality of care such as incentives to hospitals based on the number of patients treated and the complexity of their cases, as well as performance incentives for physicians or hospitals

Enhancing patient access along the continuum of care. The report calls for universal access to prescription drugs and access to continuing care outside of hospitals in order to help patients

Helping providers help patients. Canada must have an adequate supply of health human resources and become more adept at using technology that can improve the way health care institutions operate, the report says

Building accountability and responsibility at all levels.

But the ideas are not without controversy. Some experts argue that pay-for-performance models could end up harming patient care, while others say universal access to prescription drugs is too expensive to pursue.

The CMA, however, says that it's clear broad, drastic changes are needed in order to stop Canada's health care system from being engulfed by massive costs and growing demands.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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