The fault in our health care system

The effects of overlooking early intervention 


You’ve been cursed with midterm season strep throat. You head to the after-hours clinic to get some meds. The doctor asks about your symptoms, looks in your throat, and writes you a prescription for antibiotics. You then head to Shoppers to get your prescription filled, and hear the usual speech: don’t drink alcohol, take with food, etc. You head home to make a full supper and get to bed early.

This scenario sounds pretty normal, but it is written from the perspective of someone who has access to a lot of resources: The ability to walk, drive or take a taxi to the clinic, a cell phone with internet to Google the number for the after-hours clinic, the literacy level to read the signs in the clinic and the instructions on your antibiotics, money to pay for the prescription, food in your cupboards to take with your medication to ensure it works properly, and a job or classes you can take time away from to rest and get better.

For someone without these resources, a prescription for antibiotics won’t do much of anything. This is a huge fault in our healthcare system. Instead of preventing illness and disease before it happens by ensuring people have adequate access to healthy food, transportation, education, and a safe place to live, our healthcare system focuses on treating symptoms, instead of addressing root causes.

These root causes are called the Social Determinants of Health, aka the social conditions one lives under that impact health. The determinants include income, social status, early childhood development, food security, education, employment and job security, race, gender, and disabilities.

Presently, our healthcare system does not do a great job of addressing the social determinants of health, and acts as more of a ‘sick-care system’, intervening after people become sick. Prescribing antibiotics to someone who can’t read the label or afford food to take food with them, will be ineffective in treating the illness. If someone is living in unsafe housing without heat, or cannot leave their job to go to the doctor, a case of strep throat will only get worse.

The solution to this problem is not an easy one, and requires collaboration from all governmental departments. If citizens of a country have an adequate income to be able to afford healthy food, an education, and medications when needed, healthcare costs would decrease dramatically. According to Dietitians of Canada, the additional cost of poverty to the healthcare system is about $7.6 billion per year. People living in food insecure households are also more likely to have physical or mental health problems. Our country and economy would be more prosperous if we provided citizens with the resources needed to live a healthy lifestyle. This would transform our sick-care system to a health care system.