Deputy Ministers Call Out Patient Engagement as Key to Transforming Health Care

The 2018 CADTH Symposium officially kicked off in Halifax with a panel of senior healthy policy leaders discussing a broad range of issues, including Canada’s opioid crisis, and how we can improve access to health care services for Indigenous Peoples.

“We see an incremental movement happening within Indigenous communities across the country to assert their rightful role in managing and delivering services,” said Keith Conn, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of Regional Operations at Indigenous Services Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch. “We have some clear evidence that, when these situations occur, there have been improved health outcomes.”

In describing some of the positive changes that have taken place to date, Conn pointed to the 2013 transfer of the entire infrastructure for the health of British Columbia’s First Nations from Health Canada to the British Columbia First Nations Health Authority.

“This has been a complete transformation, where [the BC First Nations Health Authority] is leading the policy, program implementation, redesign, even the decolonization of health care services, if I may say,” stated Conn.

The need for collaboration among all levels of government, health care providers, and patients was a recurring theme during the panel discussion, with the deputy ministers singling out patient input as a critical element to progress. John Abbott, Deputy Minister for the Department of Health and Community Services in Newfoundland and Labrador, cited CADTH’s efforts to include the patient voice as an example to follow throughout health care systems.

“From my experience, and from the literature that I’ve read, when patients are in the room with clinicians and others, the nature of the conversation changes,” said Abbott. “Many of us in our jurisdictions pay lip service to it, but we really need to do a lot more around bringing the patient voice and experience at all levels.”

While much of the panel discussion centred on ways that Canada could and should do a better job of using evidence to improve health care delivery and outcomes, ending the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis remains a key area of focus for deputy ministers.

“I think it’s too early to say if we can end the [opioid] crisis. Certainly the deaths are still increasing and certainly in both Alberta and BC, we haven’t seen that abate yet,” said Milton Sussman, the Deputy Minister of Alberta Health Services. “I think we’re still not fully understanding the complexity of the problem and that is going to take some time.”

In describing the challenges in tackling the opioid crisis, the panel pointed to product marketing, addressing the underlying reasons for opioid use, and ensuring appropriate opioid prescribing by all physicians as important areas for action.