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Where are health-care users in Alberta doctors’ contract dispute?  

Old man lying in hospital bed holding daugher's hand
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By Charlie Fischer
and Judy Birdsell
IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health

It’s positive that the government of Alberta and physicians have created a working group to find a way to reach common ground in the current dispute over the doctors’ cancelled contract.

Yet, IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health, a citizen-led organization that aspires to support Albertans in efforts to shape the future of health care, is deeply concerned by the potential negative effects of the dispute. The risks include:

Charles Fischer

There are clearly many sides to the ongoing discussions in the province – physicians are upset by decisions of the government; government is trying to control costs; Alberta Health Services aspires to have an integrated health system in the province.

With a great deal of rhetoric in the public sphere, there’s very little focus on what this all means for everyday Albertans. The health-care system in theory exists for the benefit of Albertans. We pay the bills, yet we’re not at the table.

A patient is the only person present at every health-care encounter in their health journey. A home base or foundation (typically a family doctor or primary care network) for one’s health journey is critical. IMAGINE Citizens hears this in many conversations and consultations with Albertans.

This home base, in combination with a complete, accurate and fully accessible health record, are the foundation for each individual’s health journey.

Progress has been made on these two fronts – primary health care and digital personal health records – in the past few years. A spirit of collaboration, respect and trust among key players/partners is critical to continue to make progress. Patients and named beneficiaries need to be full partners in these deliberations.

Judy Birdsell

Town hall meetings and letters written these past couple of weeks make it clear that Albertans are having a bit of a crash course in key aspects of our health eco-system. There’s much more to learn, so we as citizens can have an effective voice in shaping the future. All the powerful parties in this dialogue (physicians, government, Alberta Health Services) have key roles to play.

We implore everyday Albertans to get involved in the conversation – so we each have confidence in the health services we receive when we need them.

There are positive changes arising from the current situation:

Town hall meetings (many organized by citizens) have laid the ground work to return (or achieve) a sense of community ownership for health. With the heightened awareness as a result of recent events, we have the opportunity for communities to assert their rightful role in influencing health.

Experts estimate that formal health-care services contribute only 25 per cent to our health. Some can be attributed to genetics and biology (which we can’t influence) but the single largest contributor to health – how we live our daily lives at home and in our communities – we absolutely can influence.

With local tensions and the threatening global health challenges, it’s critical that we citizens educate ourselves and claim our space in the decisions affecting our health.

Judy Birdsell and Charlie Fischer are founders and board members of IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health. Charlie recently received the Order of Canada in recognition of his lifelong leadership in the energy sector and community causes, including advocacy in health care. Judy has been a consultant in health research policy and has received three national awards for her contributions in the health charitable sector.

Judy and Charlie are Troy Media Thought Leaders. Why aren’t you?

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Judy Birdsell

Judy is retired as principal of On Management Health Group, a company that consults across Canada on organizing and policy in health care, health care research and the voluntary sector. She has held more than 20 leadership positions in health and research organizations, and has recently completed a term on the board of the Health Quality Council of Alberta. She has received three national awards that recognize her achievements in the voluntary sector including the Queen’s Gold Jubilee Medal. As a result of family experiences in the health care system, Judy now devotes most of her volunteer time to enhancing patient/family voice in safety and quality discussions. She is an active member of Patients for Patient Safety Canada and a Patient Safety Champion (Canada).

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