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Canada Can Take New Steps to Make Healthcare Greener

Shutterstock Licensed Photo - 2173892671 | by MillaF



Environmental sustainability is becoming a greater concern for organizations in virtually every sector of the economy. We are being forced to adapt new approaches to minimize our carbon footprint as new fears of climate change continue to escalate.

Most of our discussions about environmental issues center around industries that are known for causing the largest carbon footprints, such as oil conglomerates. However, all industries should make sustainability a concern.

The healthcare sector is among those that is more focused on sustainability. Even government run healthcare organizations, such as the Canadian healthcare system have started to acknowledge that they need to do more to promote sustainability.

In 2022, the World Economic Forum published a whitepaper outlining some of the sustainability concerns affecting the Canadian healthcare system. According to the authors, the Health Canada’s Bureau of Climate Change & Innovation outlined a number of initiatives to reduce climate vulnerability and lower the climate impact of the healthcare model.

Healthcare Sustainability Needs to Become a Priority for Canada’s Healthcare System

Just like with any other country, Canada’s healthcare system has seen reforms over the years and will continue to evolve in response to changes within the medical community. However, the basics of healthcare have remained the same – universal coverage of healthcare services based on need rather than financial means. While the government has done a good job meeting these needs, they have a lot of work to do to promote greater environmental sustainability.

Canada’s healthcare system reflects Canadians’ willingness to share resources and responsibilities. The citizens of Canada are becoming more concerned about sustainability, which will force the government to make their healthcare services eco-friendlier. In October, a poll showed 75% of Canadians want the government to provide more funding to protect the planet. They likely want the government to make the healthcare sector greener as well.

Each modification of the system since its inception reflects this. As the country’s population grows and circumstances change, the system will continue evolving to provide the best care.

Will Canada’s Efforts to Be More Sustainable Conflict with their Goal of Offering Better Service?

Of course, sustainability is a very important consideration for Canadians. However, they also care about the quality of the healthcare system. Will the government be able to take care of both of these goals?

In order to reform the healthcare system to be eco-friendlier, it is important to understand the services it provides in context. The Canadian healthcare system is designed to provide essential medical services to all Canadians by giving access to various services, including hospital care, prescription drugs, and physician services. The Canadian healthcare system is publicly funded through a combination of federal and provincial taxes. The principles of universality, comprehensiveness, portability, accessibility, and public administration guide the system.

Just like with any other country, the Canadian healthcare system is a vital component of society and is highly valued by the citizens. All Canadian citizens expect high-quality, accessible healthcare that is available in a timely manner. In most countries’ opinion polls, healthcare consistently ranks are one of the top priorities and is considered a fundamental right.

The history of the Canadian healthcare system dates back to the early years when Europeans settled in Canada. Over time, the system has evolved to meet the needs of Canadians and has undergone several reforms that have shaped the system as it is today. Despite all the challenges, the Canadian healthcare system has remained an integral part of society and is considered one of the country’s greatest achievements.

One of the key factors contributing to the success of Canada’s healthcare system is the presence of a strong leadership and management infrastructure. A certified health executive with an Executive Master of Health Administration degree from a reputed university can become a qualified healthcare leader with the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to navigate the complex and ever-changing healthcare management landscape. Graduates of this program from Telfer University are well-equipped to lead healthcare organizations and drive positive change in the healthcare system, which may be needed with the number of challenges the system currently faces.

Pre-20th century: the early years

Before European settlement, Indigenous people in Canada had their own healing practices based on a holistic understanding of health and wellness. They were deeply rooted in traditional knowledge and relied on using natural medicines, ceremonies, and spiritual practices. Indigenous healers were highly respected in society for their skills and knowledge.

The introduction of the European medical system had a major impact on Canadian healthcare. The first hospitals were established in the 1700s and were a place for treating sick and injured soldiers. These were military hospitals, and the general public did not have access to them. The first civilian hospital was set up in 1821 in Montreal, operated by the Catholic Church and offered care to poor and marginalized citizens.

The 1867 Constitution Act gave the federal government responsibility for maintaining marine hospitals and caring for Indigenous people, while the provinces were responsible for managing hospitals, asylums, and charities. Because of the lack of government funding, all the early hospitals were run with the support of wealthy citizens.

20th century: the birth and expansion of medicare

The 20th century saw significant progress in the development of Canada’s healthcare system. The federal government began to take an active role in healthcare policy in the 1940s by introducing universal healthcare. In 1947, the Saskatchewan government passed the universal hospital care plan, known as the Hospital Insurance Act. And later, in 1957, the federal government passed the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act, where funding was provided to all the provinces for setting up hospital insurance plans. These plans included the cost of hospital stays and all the diagnostics, regardless of the individual’s paying capacity.

In 1966, the federal government passed the Medical Care Act or Medicare. Under the Medical Care Act, all province residents were entitled to free medical care, including visits to doctors and specialists, laboratory tests, and other medical services.

One of the main challenges was the issue of healthcare funding, with some provinces struggling to provide adequate funding for their healthcare systems. Despite the challenges and debates, Medicare remains a cornerstone of Canada’s healthcare system and a source of pride for many Canadians. It has been cited as a model for other countries to follow and has helped to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for all Canadians.

Canada Health Act was passed in 1984, which ultimately replaced the previous insurance acts by setting up a criterion on portability, accessibility, universality, comprehensiveness, and public administration. As long as the provinces adhere to these criteria, they could receive federal funding. It ensured that there would be no extra billing and user fees for insured services. This Act is still active today, with its primary objective to provide healthcare to all Canadians. It ensures that no matter where an individual is within the country, the insurance will be valid. These insurance plans cover all necessary hospital and physician services but does not include long-term care, dental, or optometry.

21st century: the current state of Canadian healthcare

At the time of writing, the Canadian healthcare system is based on the principle of universal health coverage. This means that all the resident citizens of Canada are entitled to access essential medical services and get the necessary medical care, irrespective of their economic status. Under the current system, all Canadians are covered by a publicly funded healthcare system that provides access to medically necessary services, such as doctor’s visits, hospital stays, diagnostic tests, and medical procedures.

As per the previous acts, the federal government plays an important role in setting up the policies and providing the necessary funding. However, managing and delivering healthcare services are the individual provinces’ responsibility. Each province has its own rules and regulations governing the delivery of these healthcare services. There might be some variations across the country as a result. Still, as long as the provinces follow the five pillars of portability, accessibility, universality, comprehensiveness, and public administration, they will receive government funding.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of Canada’s healthcare system. While the system was able to adapt to the challenges posed by the global pandemic, it also exposed several vulnerabilities of the Canadian healthcare system. There is a strong need for more investment in long-term care and mental health facilities.

Challenges and criticisms

Despite the successes of Canada’s healthcare system, there are ongoing challenges and criticisms. These severely impact the system’s ability to meet the needs of Canadians.

One of the main challenges is the issue of wait times, particularly for non-emergency medical procedures and specialist appointments. Although the system covers all the essential procedures, the wait times for non-emergency procedures are exceptionally long. This can result in dissatisfaction and frustration among patients.

A significant demographic shift has put additional pressure on the healthcare system. Older individuals have complex healthcare needs compared to the younger generation and may require more frequent medical interventions. There are also concerns about the sustainability of the healthcare system in the face of an aging population.

Increasing healthcare costs may also make it difficult for the system to sustain universal care for all. The system is funded through tax dollars, and the demand for healthcare continually increases; the current resources may not be sufficient to meet these demands. Some also say that the system is underfunded, and more resources are needed to improve access to medical services and reduce wait times.

Although universal care is meant for all, there are still differences in access to care across the country. Not all Canadians have access to basic medical services, which may be because of geographical and socioeconomic barriers. Individuals may be living in remote or rural areas or maybe from lower income groups, which can impact the quality of care they receive, resulting in poorer health outcomes.

Just like other countries, Canada is also facing a shortage of skilled and dedicated individuals for the workforce that is required in response to the changing healthcare standards, aging population, and even the most recent pandemic. There are concerns about the shortage of all healthcare professionals, including nurses, doctors, and specialists. This shortage can, in turn, result in longer wait times as well as higher costs for the healthcare system.

In response to these challenges, the Canadian healthcare system must adapt and evolve. There have been ongoing reforms and innovations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the healthcare system. These reforms and innovations have included investments in new medical technologies, efforts to improve the coordination and integration of healthcare services, and new care delivery models, such as telemedicine. It may also include strategies to recruit and retain healthcare professionals to meet the system’s demands.

In addition, ongoing efforts have been made to improve access to healthcare services in rural and remote communities, including expanding telemedicine and other innovative approaches to care delivery.

Comparison with other healthcare systems

The Canadian healthcare system is often compared with those in other countries, particularly those with similar economic development and healthcare expenditures.

Universal coverage is one of the most noteworthy points of comparison among the healthcare systems, as it provides all citizens with access to essential medical services. This is in contrast with other developed countries like the United States, where a substantial proportion of the population is uninsured and lacks access to basic medical care.

Although Canada’s healthcare system provides universal coverage, the healthcare expenditures of the country are much lower than those of other developed countries.

Longer wait times are one of the common criticisms of the Canadian healthcare system. For non-emergency procedures, the wait times are significantly longer than in other developed countries. This has certainly led to some frustration and dissatisfaction among patients.

Although the wait times are longer, patients in Canada have higher satisfaction levels with their healthcare systems as most of the essential medical services are covered under insurance. Private insurance players are limited in the country as the healthcare system is publicly funded. This drastically differs from countries like Germany, where private insurance is a major player in the healthcare system.

Overall, the Canadian healthcare system can often be seen as a model for universal coverage and cost containment. However, ongoing challenges with access and wait times need to be addressed.

What Can the Government Do to Make Healthcare Eco-Friendlier?

The Canadian government is looking for new ways to promote sustainability in its healthcare system. HealthCareCAN released a paper in 2019 outlining some of the steps that the government can take to make healthcare greener. Some of the suggestions include the following:

  • Allow the government to directly compete with private healthcare providers. Healthcare organizations with green infrastructures can lower their carbon footprint and put more pressure on the government and other healthcare providers to do the same.
  • Provide more government funding for research that can lower the environmental impact of healthcare.
  • Invest in digital healthcare systems that can both improve patient care and lower the carbon footprint of healthcare.

There are clearly a number of things that the government can do to lower the environmental impact of healthcare. These changes can make a big difference in the years to come as climate change becomes a greater fear.

The Canadian Government Needs to Do More to Lower the Carbon Footprint of its Healthcare System

Canada’s healthcare system remains one of the most highly regarded in the world, committed to providing high-quality care to all Canadians. Its history is synonymous with evolution and transformation. From its origins as a patchwork of privately funded hospitals to the development of a universal healthcare system, Canada has made significant strides in providing high-quality care to all of its citizens.

However, the system needs to do more to lower its environmental impact. While the system faces ongoing challenges that go beyond sustainability, there are also ongoing efforts to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and access to healthcare services. Canada’s healthcare system remains a source of pride for many Canadians and a model for other countries worldwide. Reforms to improve both service deliverability and sustainability can be examples of other countries around the world.

As Canada continues to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of its population, the healthcare system will play a critical role in the health and well-being of Canadians for generations to come.

Becca Stickler is a freelance writer with a focus on sustainability and eco-friendly living.