Almost a decade ago, in my mid thirties, a routine physical showed elevated liver enzymes. Follow-up tests three months later showed them rising. My doctor was diligent, and referred me to the liver clinic at Toronto Western Hospital. What followed was a year-long series of interventions, which at first were benign – lose ten pounds and give up the couple glasses of wine on weekends – but progressed to ultrasounds and biopsies.
As the mounting tests could find nothing wrong, I became more medically interesting. More specialists became involved, though I rarely the saw the same one twice. Further tests ordered, including a MRI that broke down while I was strapped inside, invoking a fear of enclosed spaces that remains with me today.
Finally, after more invasive tests were recommended and I was rebuked for questioning the need, I balked and walked away from the medical system. And, except for my annual physical, I have stayed away.
Instead, I’ve voted with my wallet as I’ve built my health care team. This includes a monthly visit to my naturopath, who brought my liver enzymes down to normal within two months, where they’ve stayed. It involves semi-regular visits to the traditional Chinese medicine/acupuncture clinic and as regular massages as I can afford. Along the way, a life-long battle with migraines has been tamed, digestive problems cleared up and allergies disappeared. I feel healthier than I did twenty years ago.
I am one of the increasing number of Canadians who does not have an employer-paid benefits plan. Since I am in the ninety-nine percent, I have to make very real choices as to which health treatments I invest in, and what I am willing to give up in order to do so.
Our government funded health care system faces similar choices, as it invests our hard-earned tax dollars in a system that has voracious demand. It currently funds a very narrow slice of the health-care pie, lobbied on all sides by individuals who want their particular priorities funded, and by medical unions and lobbyists who have their own interests at play.
We hear increasingly about the need to fund health promotion and disease prevention. How best to do this? As a tax-payer I don’t want to see heath promotion reduced to health education and marketing focused on changing behavioral risk factors, delivered by harried doctors on a fee-for-service schedule. Especially when my trust in the efficacy of the “public” system is shaken by stories of greed and poor oversight like ORNGE, or efforts by the OMA to avoid disclosure of doctors’ salaries while they buy advertising claiming they are ‘saving’ money for the health care system.
I am cognizant of the costs and logistics involved in adding ‘alternative’ practitioners to the public system. But if we are serious about prevention and not just intervention, we need to open up the discussion about what prevention looks like, what reasonable outcomes can be agreed upon in terms of health promotion, and how and by whom they can best be delivered. In my next few posts, I will explore some of these prevention options.