health care by the numbers

These days, you can’t travel anywhere without Visa or MasterCard knowing it. Your first shoe purchase in, say, Orillia, Ontario, will spark a…

These days, you can’t travel anywhere without Visa or MasterCard knowing it.

Your first shoe purchase in, say, Orillia, Ontario, will spark a phone call.

The credit companies will track you down and confirm that you are where your card says you are.

It’s a safety mechanism. And yet, it’s still a little disconcerting.

They know, intimately, your shopping patterns.

Deviate from them and they’ll know that, too.

The point is that computing power has progressed to the point that data tracking is cheap and easy.

It’s mind-boggling, the information the financial community and marketing firms have been able to collect about us.

And it’s getting more sophisticated (and invasive) every year.

We accept this when it comes to spending money.

Why not health?

Imagine you’re involved in a car accident in Orillia, Ontario.

Unless you were with a buddy or family member who was conscious, the doctors at the local hospital wouldn’t have a clue about your blood type.

They wouldn’t know your pre-existing conditions.

They wouldn’t know what you’re allergic to.

They wouldn’t know what drugs you’re on.

Or when you took your last dose of your prescription.

Why?

These days, doesn’t that seem absurd?

Wouldn’t such a database save money, time and, last but not least, lives?

But Canada, a G7 nation, has no such database.

Incredible.

There are other reasons for instituting a public health database.

Last week, Craig Tuton, chair of the Yukon Hospital Board, was discussing how hard it is for the hospital to draft a budget.

The institution has no idea how many people are going to get sick, or what they’re going to get sick with, he said.

On the surface, that seems reasonable.

Sickness is random and variable, or so society thinks.

But, of course, a decade ago, consumer purchases seemed random and variable too.

It would be a good bet that hospital visits and illnesses in a  community of 31,000 are, on average, less random than people might think.

There will always be exceptions — those pesky SARS outbreaks — but the run-of-the-mill stuff would fall in a pretty neat pattern.

And, after a short time, as few as three years, the hospital would have a much better sense about, on average, how many ladder falls, ATV accidents, incidents of cancer, diabetes, hep C, tuberculosis, heart attacks, rampant infection and any of a hundred other ailments affect the territory in any given year.

It would also provide hard information about what ails people in the territory. That’s arguably the first step in solving the problems.

But today, Whitehorse General Hospital has almost no hard data on the numbers or types of illness and injuries in the community.

It has, at best, a good hunch about any of this stuff.

Which is why the corporation is having a tough time drafting a budget.

It is currently drafting its five-year strategic plan.

It is asking the public for ideas.

We suggest it invest the money in a sophisticated health database that would track substantial information about Yukoners’ health.

The technology is available — the financial and business community has been using and refining it for years.

It’s time Canada’s public health industry did the same.

And, as a small jurisdiction launching a five-year strategic plan, the Yukon is the perfect place to start. (RM)