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August 20, 2008

Emergency Room Retrofit

Tom McLaughlin

Throughout the past few years, there has been a blasting of the Canadian healthcare system. Many conservatives point to the “awful” conditions up north as an example of what can happen if the government gets involved.


I recently visited the town of Nipigon at the tip of the north finger of Lake Superior. I asked many people about their healthcare system and most were more than satisfied with the hospital care they received.


My friend’s grandson was born with a cleft palate. He was transported from the small hospital to Thunder Bay and then flown, with his mother, to the Children’s Hospital in Toronto, a two hour flight. Following the operation, which included a hotel stay with his mom, he was flown back to Thunder Bay and then, by car, to Nipigon.


His monthly follow up care included the reverse. Nipigon to Thunder Bay to Toronto and back again. There was no charge for any of this including the air fare. All she had to do was present a card.


Last January, my daughter went to the emergency room at Frederick Memorial Hospital. The nightmare included a four-hour wait where the triage nurse didn’t have a clue about her condition. Finally, her mother raised enough hell that she was finally seen by a doctor. They immediately put her on a gurney and rushed to the operating room. Had they waited much longer, she would have been, God forbid, dead.


I am still receiving a blizzard of bills from everyone except the janitor. I am expecting one from him. There are astronomical co-pays, ridiculous invoices from people we have never heard of and the demands for payment. I am sure everyone reading this has their own horror stories.


One major problem seems to stand out in both Canada and America. This is the waiting time to see a doctor in the emergency rooms. The reasons are very different.


In Canada, the citizens have become used to free medical care and have taken advantage of the system. They go to the emergency room for very minor problems. Usually when you and I have a cold or flu, we hunker down with over counter medicines from the drug store.


Another reason is the lack of doctors in rural areas. Some towns don’t have any medical facilities and citizens are forced to go to emergency rooms for routine matters. Many doctors have their roster full and cannot take on any additional patients.


This causes long waiting periods and clogs the system. A good triage nurse can usually sort out the mess, thus separating true emergencies from the very minor cases.


However, the mindset has been established in a small portion of the population where you go the hospital at the very sign of a sniffle.


The American emergency room is different. There are usually true emergencies and the threat to health much greater than in Canada. There will always be those who go because they have nothing better to do; but people think thrice before going to that Hell hole. I have to be near death before I will visit one. And then someone will have to carry me.


Because of the lack of health insurance, 45 million Americans can’t afford a private doctor. Sadly, the emergency room is the only option. People, who need services that a local family doctor can provide, are forced out for economic reasons.


With the revamping of the entire medical system coming after the election of Sen. Barack Obama, we have much to learn from the Canadian system. With a one payer system, only a social security number will be required for most care. This will wipe out entire hospital departments, from those who sit in those cubicles getting insurance company information when an ambulance arrives, to the computer people and bill collectors.


Pharmaceutical companies who – like the oil companies – will be refrained from charging what ever they want. Like Canada, they must accept what the government tells them they will be paid. A fair price and profit must be realized, but not the exorbitant (mine are $753/month and that’s not Viagra) rip offs they are now permitted to charge.


The procedures in both countries emergency rooms need to be completely destroyed and rebuilt from the bottom up. Cooperation between the two countries exchanging information and insights could only benefit the people of both nations.


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