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Better self-care strengthens healthcare
Created on 3/17/2021 9:11:10 AM

Written by Michael Graydon, CEO of Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada
Published on March 2, 2021

Stethoscope overlayed on a blurred Canadian flag

As I highlighted earlier this month, it’s no surprise that in national polling Canadians see healthcare as a top concern and believe high costs, an aging population, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic pose major threats to the sustainability of our publicly-funded healthcare system. 

Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada (FHCP) has argued that strengthening self-care is a critical part of the solution to resolving these challenges and strengthening healthcare more broadly. We’ve launched Take Care, Canada Blueprint for a National Self-Care Strategy, which describes all the ways the government must act urgently to evaluate the benefits of self-care and ensure Canadians have access to the products, tools, and services they need to take better care of themselves.

As we like to say, self-care means so much more than bubble baths, and it spans far beyond FHCP’s role in consumer health and natural health product manufacturing. For self-care to work, Canada needs a holistic and coordinated national approach. 

To discuss Canadians’ views on self-care and hear from Canadian and global experts, on February 3 FHCP sponsored a digital conversation hosted by Abacus Data’s CEO David Coletto. More than 60 professionals, academics, and stakeholders participated as David dove deeper into the polling data and interviewed experts to better understand how self-care can strengthen our publicly-funded healthcare system and facilitate better individual health outcomes for Canadians. 

The fact is that self-care offers tremendous benefits for personal and public health. Canadians face unacceptable wait times and general lack of capacity from emergency rooms to the family doctor’s office. Of course, Canada continues to make investments in improving the capacity and quality of our publicly-funded healthcare system, but improving self-care is a relatively affordable and extremely efficient way to complement those larger investments. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” According to WHO, self-care interventions contribute to improved outcomes including increased coverage and access, reduced health disparities and increased equity, improved human rights and social outcomes, as well as reduced costs and more efficient use of healthcare resources and services. 

The pandemic has only emphasized how important it is to support and strengthen self-care. According to Dr. Nakhla, more Canadians are seeking out the expertise of health practitioners like pharmacists who are often more accessible than doctors. FHCP also found that as of May 2020, half of survey respondents missed an in-person appointment with a doctor due to the COVID-19 pandemic response measures. More than half of those who managed their health conditions themselves during the pandemic were satisfied with the results.

In fact, FHCP’s Gerry Harrington highlighted, tiny shifts to self-care add up to big impacts. If just a small portion of those suffering from mild to moderate symptoms from colds, headaches, and heartburn opted for self-care instead of seeking professional care, we could eliminate millions of unnecessary doctors visits and allow thousands more Canadians access to a family doctor.

The pandemic, said Director General of the Global Self-Care Federation Judy Steinmark has changed the world forever, and “health systems will never be the same again.” COVID-19 revealed vulnerabilities in healthcare systems around the world, but it has also reemphasized the opportunities that arise with increased flexibility and innovation.

Dr. Kristine Sørensen, President of the International Health Literacy Association points out that “many systems [provide] one-size-fits-all services” and are not attentive to the variance individual health literacy. Dr. Sørenson notes the importance of “people-centered and targeted” initiatives as well as products and services. While many individuals have access to the health knowledge and expertise they need, many struggle to find trustworthy, reliable sources for assistance. Investments in self-care literacy through research, public education, and governmental action are necessary to equip Canadians with the tools and information necessary to take control of their own health.

There’s really nothing standing in the way of improving self-care, except inaction. Government has a clear role to play in developing and implementing a comprehensive National Self-Care Strategy, and Canadians overwhelmingly support the idea - more than 90% support improving self-care and implementing a National Self-Care Strategy. 

You can read FHCP’s full Blueprint for a National Self-Care Strategy and see highlights of the Abacus Data digital conversation here. Join the conversation and #TakeCareCanada.