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Monday, September 26, 2011

It’s About Time

Eric Grief, M.D. is a family physician in Brampton and Thornhill, Ontario. He has written a book called Get Diagnosed Fast. His book can be accessed at
This bulletin by the Health Council of Canada highlights for us the factors contributing to whether or not patients feel ‘engaged’ in their medical care. What the survey results make apparent is how vital the time factor is in motivating Canadians to spend more energy safeguarding their health.
Time is brain when it comes to a brain attack (stroke) treatment and time is muscle in the algorithm for the treatment of a heart attack. So what does time represent in terms of the medical visit that millions of Canadians participate in annually? It turns out that time means engagement. People prefer that their medical doctor spends enough time with them—listening to their health concerns, organizing their symptoms and answering health-related questions and explaining treatment options. This time investment pays off dividends in the yield of ‘patient engagement.’
Unfortunately, medical doctors’ time is at a premium. This means that to ensure adequate time with every patient, some patients have to wait or else access medical care in a circuitous route: emergency departments, urgent access medical clinics, or clinic shopping that may involve out-of-pocket expenses.
Medical doctors and patients alike prefer to have health problems diagnosed and treated quickly. A fast and timely diagnosis leads to fewer backlogs, less suffering, and often results in improved patient adherence to treatment plans. Canadians can help their medical doctors at each visit by preparing in advance -  by rehearsing their concerns, negotiating their agenda their doctor, and asking questions. If they are not satisfied with the care, then Canadians need to follow up with the same medical doctor and explain their concerns forthrightly. Often, this latter strategy sends the message that people are not just a health complaint but rather they are humans with emotions who happen to have a health concern.
Medical colleges are aware that time is a factor in patient care. Ordering expensive tests does not replace one-on-one communication with patients... nor is it likely to replace doctors any time soon. Solving the time crunch requires continued vigilance from Canadians to communicate efficiently when visiting their doctor and from medical colleges to negotiate adequate payment schedules to reflect the time requirements that exist to deliver ‘timely’ care.
Patients engaged in their medical care ... it’s about time.

Key Words: Primary Health Care, Patient Engagement

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