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Health City Represents A New Level Of Physician Advocacy

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"Don't think outside the box, think like there is no box." - Jo Miller

As many people know, the past two years have seen a significant deterioration in the relationship between Ontario's physicians, and the Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne and her health minister, Eric Hoskins. While this breakdown in trust was initiated by the government's decision to impose unilateral cuts to the health-care system, it has been aggravated by the woeful mismanagement of health care by Wynne and Hoskins. The result is that all front line health care workers are experiencing increased stress levels as the system around them fails to meet the needs of Ontario's growing and aging population.

Many of the situations that have occurred because of Hoskins unilateral cuts were entirely predictable. For example, cutting the fees for addiction services (some by as much as 50 per cent) resulted in the closing of addiction clinics, which then resulted in the government having to back pedal and launch new addiction strategies. That vulnerable patients would be the first to suffer was loudly announced by physicians, and it's sad that those predictions have come true.

However, what has been unforeseen by Wynne and Hoskins, has been the rise of physician advocates. For years, the government has dealt with only one agency when it comes to physicians, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA). Somewhat staid and old fashioned, the OMA, like any big organization, has historically been slow to move, full of committees, and prone to issuing statements of displeasure filled with polysyllabic run-on sentences referencing regulations and committees that even most physicians have never heard of. Suffice it to say that blunt, to the point pronouncements have not been what Hoskins and Wynne are used to dealing with.

However, what they (and the OMA) did not foresee was the rise of individual physicians advocating for health care, without any involvement from the OMA. They have also been coming up with out of the box ideas. There has been, for example, a certain loudmouth from Stayner, the eloquent Dr. Nadia Alam, the well-expressed Dr. D'Souza and the potent Dr. Jacobs writing in the local news and so on.

Completely unsupported by the OMA, there have been rallies in front of Liberal candidates' offices in byelections that contributed to their defeat. A rally at Queen's Park was discouraged by OMA as being "off message," but was positively viewed by even the notoriously anti-doctor Toronto Star. There continues to be advocacy on facebook and other social media.

Now, physicians are moving even further out of their comfort zones and have partnered with many other health care providers to launch a unique event known as Health City, in Kingston, on November 22, 2016. Rather than just protest, Health City's plan is to bring awareness of the health care crisis to the general public, and also educate them as to what they can do to fight for proper health care services in Ontario.

The brain child of Dr. Joy Hataley, the event offers an ambitious agenda. First, there will be a number of Health Educations Booths where people can interact directly with specialists and can get general (not personalized) information about various health conditions. There will also be flu shots provided for patients who don't have a family doctor (estimated by the Health City organizers to be in excess of 6,000 in Kingston). Health Care Connect, the government agency responsible for matching patients who don't have a family physician with a doctor, will have a booth to register patients.

Additionally, several patients are going to be speaking out about the long waits they have had to access needed services in the South East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) that is supposed to oversee health care in the Kingston region. The statistics presented by Health City show that the wait times in the South East LHIN are far worse than the targets Ontario has set.

And finally, of course there will be panel discussions on the Grand Stage around Wait Times, Single Payer Systems and, of course, the notorious Bill 41 that threatens to further decimate the health care system in Ontario.

The event promises to be busy, and grab a lot of media attention. People anywhere in Ontario can go attend by registering here, and are also welcome to share their own health care stories.

Now, I happen to be a huge fan of people like Dr. Hataley who come up with novel innovative ideas that are outside of their comfort zone. I also have tremendous respect for physicians like Drs. Baran, Legnini, Arrowsmith and Schneider who dedicate so much time and effort into organizing events like this. Even the normally restrained, stuffy and formal OMA has elected to support this event (unlike all the other public events before it). However, I'm saddened by the fact that it's necessary.

Let's face it, Ontario doesn't need for example, Dr. David Jacobs (a radiologist) to spend extra time writing for newspapers. We need him to spend any extra time he has to work to develop, say, guidelines to determine how often a CT scan of chest should be ordered to follow up on an unexpected finding. We don't need Dr. Alam spending her time writing about Bill 41, we need her (as an anaesthetist) to work on updating guidelines to determine what type of surgical cases are safe to perform in a general hospital. The same could be applied to all physician activists.

But alas, that's not where we are right now. Physicians, seeing their patients suffer due to the senseless and unrelenting nature of Eric Hoskins unilateral cutbacks are fighting back in new, unexpected and evolving ways. Health City represents a new attempt to get the government to pay attention to the health care crisis. While I encourage everyone to register, tell their story and attend, I pray that the day comes soon when ideas like this (as innovative as they are) are no longer needed.

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