In my previous blog post I outlined some of the pressing challenges our health care systems face when addressing the management of our health human resources and underlined the need for a strategic approach.
So, what steps should Canada take to get to the high-performing health care system all Canadians want? From the Health Council’s perspective, there are several basic elements we need to work on.
1. Set a vision and measurable goals
We need to set specific targets nationally and provincially that are aligned for each of our professions. These have to be based on our population health needs, the interprofessional collaboration model of care and the capacity of our education and training system to meet them. For example, we should aim to be self-sufficient and set a timeframe to reduce our reliance on international recruitment across all professions. In addition, we could set explicit targets for training the workforce we know we’re going to need to care for the growing number of complex patients living in the community and at home.
2. Address our human resources challenges in workforce planning
Canada has shown that, given time, it can implement innovative ways of delivering better quality care more efficiently at the “micro level”. But, when it comes to achieving a high-performing health care system, time is not on our side. We need governments and professional bodies to better collaborate to create supportive “macro level” policies that accelerate the implementation and spread of innovative practices. This includes regulatory frameworks that support professionals to work in teams and a post-secondary education system that is more responsive to training professionals that meet projected population health needs.
3. Central body of evidence
Traditionally, knowledge translation on health human resources has been a one-way street where researchers produce evidence which they communicate to decision-makers. It is, therefore, not surprising that we don’t yet have a shared information base.
Seeing this, a number of Canadian health care stakeholders are calling for the establishment of a health human resources observatory. An observatory would be a forum where researchers, governments, employers, health professionals and unions can come together to share their views and gradually develop an evidence base that has “buy-in” from all sectors.
An observatory could also be a forum for coordinating research on health workforce issues, strengthening data collection and sharing approaches across provinces and territories. In this role it would build on the current trend towards increased interprovincial collaboration.
In 2010, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health recommended the creation of a national observatory. The Health Council has endorsed this recommendation. Among peer nations, Australia has established an observatory whose work is highly regarded by experts in the field. Known as Health Workforce Australia, the observatory states as its goal: to build a sustainable health workforce for Australia.
In fact, the building blocks of an observatory are already up and running in the form of the Canadian HHR Network. The Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Network (CHHRN) was established with federal funds and is made up of renowned researchers and policy makers. The Network has over 75 users from across Canada, and their Advisory Committee includes health ministry representatives.
The Network is already a valued source of best practice information on issues like health human resource retention and productivity.
To conclude, I believe that Canada is in a strong position to enact policy changes that would improve the productivity of our health workforce and improve the performance of our health care systems. Today’s governments and health care managers are well-versed in the language of quality improvement in health care. They also realize that there are cost-savings to be made by reorganizing our health systems to produce more effective care that is responsive to the needs and wishes of patients.
Just as Canada is proud of having one of the world’s strongest financial systems, shouldn’t we also want to have one of the best health care systems in the world? Canada has the knowledge and resources required to plan for our future health care needs, and this is more than true for our health workforce.
In the end, we want not only to be self-sufficient nationally, but to have the highly-skilled people to meet our health care demand needs in each region of the country. That will require a strategic approach built on continued collaboration amongst governments, professional bodies, their regulators and the education and training community.