Self-care could free up thousands of doctors or more than $1.5 billion


Self-care could free up thousands of doctors or more than $1.5 billion

If Canadians who go to the doctor for minor ailments such as coughs, colds or heartburn, just to confirm what they think they already know chose self care instead to treat their symptoms, it could free up enough doctor time that 500,000 more Canadians could have a family doctor, according to a study conducted by Consumer Health Products Canada.

According to the study, 1 in 10 Canadians had visited the doctor with minor ailments in the past month. Those ailments included headaches, common colds, heartburn, indigestion and allergies. Of those people that went to the doctor, the study found that 16 per cent of them went to the doctor even though their symptoms were relatively mild, which works out to about two per cent of all minor ailments sufferers in Canada.

“If we could get that two per cent to self treat, to practice some sort of self care instead of going to the doctor, we were able to calculate that it would free up enough resources and doctor time to get a family physician for half a million Canadians who currently don’t have one,” Gerry Harrington, vice president, policy and regulatory affairs with Consumer Health Products Canada. In dollar terms, those visits equate to about $1.5 billion in healthcare costs, according to the study.

“There are in range of 5 million Canadians who don’t have a family doctor right now and it’s a real struggle in some jurisdictions. In Quebec in particular, there are about one in five who don’t have a family doctor. You can either throw money at it and hire more doctors and provide all of the infrastructure for those doctors, or you could take the opposite view and make better use of the doctors we have,” said Harrington. “It’s a pretty modest goal. Just shifting two per cent of sufferers of a small handful of minor ailments. It gives you a sense of the scope of the possibilities without being overly aggressive or without trying to fundamentally change the behaviour of the average Canadian.”

One surprising finding from the study is that the likelihood of going to the doctor for these minor issues goes up with both income and education.

“It’s the absolute opposite of what we expected. It’s an interesting finding because it tells us that there’s got to be a reason why people with better incomes and education are behaving this way,” said Harrington. “Our healthcare system encourages you to go to the doctor. It is insured and prescription drugs are tax-free. If you practice some form of self care and get over the counter medications, you pay the GST and you can’t deduct it off your income tax. It’s pretty rational behaviour. But it’s counterintuitive. You’d think the people most reliant on the doctor might be less educated, less savvy, when in fact it’s the other way around.”

The study also found that of those people with minor ailments, 77 per cent of them managed their symptoms without seeing a doctor. Seventy-two per cent of those surveyed used either over the counter medications or natural health products to treat the ailments.

The study was based on three surveys of Canadians who were asked to recall how they treated minor ailments if any had occurred in the past month. Consumer Health Products Canada analyzed the data of all the surveys and recently had the analysis published in a peer-reviewed journal.

This article, written by Alberta-based freelance writer Dave S. Clark was originally published by Postmedia Network