Abdulla: A doctor’s Christmas wish for Canada’s health-care system

What we currently have is a ‘sick-care’ system, when what we need is a proper focus on preventive, ethical and proactive care.

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I have been a comprehensive “cradle to grave” family doctor since 1993. After 30 years of looking after great grandparents, grandparents, parents, children and new babies, I have never been so conflicted.

I love my patients, their stories and their joys, and feel truly blessed to have been a healing part of their wretched sorrows. I love being a family doctor who mixes science, medicine, stories, art and sometimes persuasion to help guide my patients to their best health outcomes. It has been a “life’s calling” that has helped me during my own divorce, estrangement from my two youngest children, my depression, my rebirth, my new marriage, my new children, and my new life of gratitude and service.

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I can say it’s been a “wonderful life.” But I can also say it has been a “nightmare before Christmas.”

Family doctors are struggling. I am struggling. I am not burned out; I am flabbergasted. I work hard to provide timely access to my patients virtually or in-person alongside my colleagues despite my patients also going to virtual walk-ins and emergency departments. They do not feel they have adequate access.

We are open Monday to Saturday, seeing more than 300 patients a week or more than 15,000 patient visits yearly with a team of four doctors and three nurse practitioners. Still, many patients don’t seem to get enough support to improve their health.

I have some patients who have had one or two visits a week — more than 50 visits a year and more than 1,000 visits over my relationship with them — but they continue to struggle in their health.

Why is this happening?

Because “health care” is no longer interested in health. We are a “sick care” system. We treat end-stage and final conditions and give people false hope. We spend on hospital beds, not community services. We spend on hip replacements, not physiotherapy.

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We spend on drugs to lower weight and diabetes and not on eliminating “cheap,” nutritionally deficient foods, or subsidizing healthy food.

We spend on cardiac bypass surgery instead of family doctors and nurse practitioners who can work in a team to prevent heart disease in the first place.

We spend on cancer therapy instead of reducing pollution, reducing processed foods, and eliminating smoking. We spend on methadone instead of on homes for the homeless.

I am flabbergasted, gobsmacked and dumbfounded by this sick-care system, which chooses easy answers that benefit no one.

But I will not give up.

I will continue to speak out and recommend solutions. I will continue to shine a light on policy-making hypocrisy. And I will continue to champion investment in ensuring a family doctor for every Canadian for the cause of preventive, ethical and proactive health care.

My Christmas wish: that everyone will support and advocate for these goals too. Thank you.

Dr. Alykhan Abdulla is a comprehensive family doctor in Manotick, board director of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and Director for Longitudinal Leadership Curriculum at the University of Ottawa Undergraduate Medical Education. Twitter: @AlykhanAbdulla LinkedIn: Dr.AlykhanAbdulla MD, FCFP, Dip Sport Med, CCPE, MCPL, ICD.D

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