The biggest waste in healthcare.

And it's happening right under our noses.

Uh oh, look at Benjamin Franklin up there. He doesn't look pleased. He doesn't like to see us wasting our hard earned money, and neither do we! But it's happening every year without many of us giving it a second thought.  

The Canada Health Act is a piece of legislation in Canada that was enacted in 1984. The Act was designed to cover "essential basic care" for all Canadians - "essential basic care" generally means care by medical physicians, hospital care including certain specialists, and obstetric care by an OB or Midwife (in certain fortunate provinces). The Canada Health Act is paid for by Canadians collectively through our taxes, and is known as the public sector of healthcare. 

You know, I just love this. The concept of helping each other out and making it part of our national interest to provide quality, equal healthcare for everyone no matter our individual financial status is just so very Canadian. It really speaks to the integrity of a nation when it not only understands the importance of quality health, but also the emphasis on taking care of our neighbours and countrymen/ladies. 

In Canada, everything that is essentially "non-essential" - Dental, Optometry, Massage Therapy, Pharmaceuticals, Physiotherapy, Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Orthodontics, and of course Naturopathic Medicine - is considered private sector healthcare and must be paid for out of patients' pockets. If you have a stable job with health benefits, you are one of the blessed and fortunate. Having health insurance benefits is a huge advantage to your health! It gives you access to the non-essential! The alternative! The extra! The creme de la creme!! The "other" kind of healthcare that contributes to well-rounded, whole health. 

And yet many who fight to have these benefits in their contracts and are fortunate enough to have them, leave them unused at the end of the year. 

We generally seek 'essential basic care' when we are in need of acute attention. When our bodies need some help ASAP. When our symptoms are screaming at us for relief! When a problem has gone on for too long, mis/untreated, and is now chronic or even fatal. This type of care is vital and fantastic when it is used appropriately, and I am grateful everyday that we have such a sophisticated medical system in place. 

However this type of care is not necessarily required, appropriate or applicable for every symptom or concern we experience. Imagine the relief we could afford our health care system if we just started exploring outside of the MD's office and hospital! Imagine if we started looking at our health differently, making appointments before we even got sick, or visiting different practitioners once we did get sick. As it stands, many of us don't think about it until there's a problem and then we are often forced to see our MD or wait around an ER room. We hold up our Canada Health Act shield only once our health is being attacked! When it comes to health care, we are on the defensive. 

Well, consider the private sector to be your healthcare offence. It's where you now become the attacker, you reclaim your health, you make the strategic plays to score the metaphorical health touchdown! It's where you find tools to protect your body against dis-ease. Get advice for minor tweaks before a symptom becomes chronic or inflammatory or problematic. Where you receive natural, body-centric alternative treatments that understand the power and importance of a body in balance. As they say, the best defence is a good offence. 

A percentage of each hard-earned paycheque goes toward paying for the ability to access this extra-special care, so it's not even really free. We are paying for it, and yet a lot of us are just leaving that money on the table unclaimed.

As a personal example, I have some shoulder troubles that have come and gone over the past few years: pain in my right shoulder on abduction and internal rotation (AKA the position your arm is in when you carry a child on your hip...) I could go see my MD, but based on the tools in his toolbox, he would likely recommend some pain relief, muscle relaxant or anti-inflammatory medications and potentially send me for some imaging if it seemed severe enough. However as an ND, I believe in trying to correct a problem from the root of the issue, so those are not my initial go-to solutions for this particular symptom. If I had strep throat and needed antibiotics or had appendicitis and needed surgery, you best believe I'd be praising heaven for the Canada Health Act. But the sporadic, relatively mild discomfort in my shoulder does not warrant this type of care. So what type of private sector alternative practitioner might I see for this shoulder issue, you ask? 

  • A Massage Therapist would work to relax the muscles in the area and remove any tension or hypertonicity, which could be contributing to the pain. 
  • A Chiropractor would help to realign the spine and shoulder girdle in order to correct any postural or mechanical issues, which could be contributing to the pain. 
  • An Acupuncturist would stimulate and balance the body's energy (Qi), removing blockages or stagnation in the acupuncture meridians, which could be contributing to the pain. 
  • A Physiotherapist would teach proper posture, optimal positions that stabilize the joint, prescribe exercises to strengthen the muscles in the area and the opposing muscle groups, because a weakness or imbalance in muscle groups could be contributing to the pain. 
  • A Naturopathic Doctor could offer some massage, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulations, hydrotherapy, correct aspects of lifestyle (carry child with other arm or let him walk) and ergonomics (sleep/work positions to reduce stress on affected shoulder), provide gentle at-home exercises, give some anti-inflammatory dietary advice and prescribe applicable herbal medicine or supplementation to help correct the problem from a few different angles. 

Different practitioners can be effective at treating the same symptom in different ways. If I saw my MD and got the pain meds, my problem would seemingly disappear. But does it really? Blocking the pain of the problem does not correct the problem, and only leads to bigger problems down the line. You need to decide how you want to navigate your health and understand your symptoms from your body's perspective. 

If even one time this year, whenever a new (or old) symptom crops up - as long as it's not urgent or life threatening! - I encourage you to consider an alternative to seeing your MD. Ask yourself "What other type of physician may be applicable here that I haven't considered but that is most likely covered by work's health insurance plan?"

Start to use up your benefits and begin to round out your healthcare team. I'm not saying don't see your MD - that would be ludicrous! I'm just saying properly assess if s/he is the practitioner to give the best care for your given symptom. Give our healthcare system a break and start to invest in your health using your fancy schmancy private sector account. You will feel so much more invested and proactive in your health, and without a doubt you will see a clear difference in your outlook on your own personal health and wellness. 

Happy 2015, friends! It's a new year, and a fresh new allotment of insurance benefits. Get after them! :)