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A Step In The Right Direction
Created on 2/27/2023 12:16:00 PM

Written by Michael Graydon, CEO of Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada
Published on February 24, 2023

Last week’s agreement between Ottawa and the premiers on a 10-year, $46.2 billion increase in healthcare spending is good news for Canada’s beleaguered healthcare system and Canadians unsure of where to turn in these difficult times.

Of particular importance is the $25 billion over 10 years for improvements in four priority areas: family health services, health workers and backlogs, mental health and addictions, and healthcare modernization (which, importantly, includes an emphasis on patient access to their own health information). This is a positive and critical step toward patient empowerment, and it is long overdue.

Last fall, a report issued by the Global Self Care Federation gave Canada a failing grade for patients’ inability to access and manage their personal health information. As outlined in FHCP’s calls for a national self-care strategy, access to electronic health records is an important enabler towards patient empowerment and consumer self-care. We’re pleased to see health ministers across the country agree on the importance of this enabler. 

FHCP has strongly advocated that a national self-care strategy is an effective, no-to-low-cost complement to investments in the publicly funded healthcare system. The healthcare system’s longstanding vulnerabilities have been glaringly apparent for several years now – even more so since the pandemic.

With a rapidly aging population, the growing burden of chronic disease should be a key priority for health planners. Seventy-three percent of Canadians over 65 have at least one of ten common chronic diseases, and more than one-third have two or more. We can and should be doing everything possible to empower Canadians to prevent and manage chronic disease and treat minor ailments through self-care.

If just two percent of Canadians with colds, headaches, or heartburn who seek professional care shifted to self-care, this would eliminate over three million unnecessary doctor visits annually and free up sufficient physician resources to allow an additional 500,000 Canadians to access a family doctor. This would be a meaningful improvement for those Canadians who currently do not have a family doctor. These are some of self-care’s tangible benefits.

Fortunately, Canadians are ready and willing to practice self-care, but we need more support and action from federal, provincial and territorial governments. They should start by embracing a national Self-Care Strategy that will help Canadians take better care of themselves and ensure they can access a broader range of self-care products and services when needed. For the federal government, this includes expediting the development of Health Canada’s Self-Care Framework to improve the regulation of self-care products and consumers’ access to them and giving Health Canada-approved self-care products the same tax status as prescription drugs.

Governments across the country can also work together to modernize overlapping regulations that severely limit access to self-care products in Canada. Despite a federal, provincial, and territorial agreement to address this issue under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement, progress on this front has been exceptionally slow, and political will is needed to jump start this process so that Canadians can have ready access to the self-care products they need when they need them.

A recent study by the Conference Board of Canada showed we could save $500 million in drug costs and $250 million in fewer doctor visits every year by switching just three categories of products (heartburn remedies, erectile dysfunction drugs, oral contraceptives) from prescription to non-prescription status. Sometimes the simplest solution is the correct one.

We all have a role to play in living healthier lives and ensuring our healthcare system remains sustainable for those who need it. Last week’s agreement is a step in the right direction and demonstrated what can be achieved by governments across the country through collaboration and political will. But there is still a long way to go and a short time to get there. The time for action is now.