I feel blessed to live in Canada, where access to healthcare is enshrined as a constitutional right. However, a publicly funded system has its downsides.
As a healthy woman in her mid-30s, my visits to the doctor are infrequent — save for my annual pap test.
The pap test is a cornerstone of women’s preventative health and the best safeguard for early detection of cervical cancer.
Nevertheless, it’s been a couple of years since I last had a pap test. And there’s a good reason for that.
After my last, super invasive, uncomfortably awkward pap test, I asked the doctor when I can expect to hear back on my results.
Well, you may not hear back at all. In fact, it’s likely you won’t hear back because everything looks normal. We only call back if there’s a problem.
Relief, right? Not quite. The doctor continued.
If you don’t hear back from us, it means that either everything is fine — or we’ve lost your test results.
While I was picking my jaw off the floor, the doctor elaborated further. The healthcare network in Canada relies on the fax system for communication. Once the lab processes the test kit, they will fax the results to an intermediary hospital somewhere.
The results report will then sit with a mountain of other unattended critical medical information, with no guarantee that someone will retrieve it. And even if they do, there’s no guarantee that the report will make its way back to the medical office and the prescribing doctor.
I was speechless. All I could do was smile awkwardly as I collected my things and sidled out of the doctor’s office.
With the doctor’s fatalistic attitude, there was no point in stating the obvious:
If the system run by our tax dollars is so inefficient, how can we trust that we will be taken care of in our most vulnerable moments?
Maybe if I were a high-risk patient, the doctor would have been less cavalier about my health. Perhaps if she had spotted eyebrow-raising abnormalities when she probed around in my pelvis, she would’ve been less dismissive.
All I know is that I haven’t returned for another pap test since this incident.
I am a big supporter of federally funded healthcare. In Canada, we take care of our own. No one has to worry about going about their day in teeth-clenching pain with a broken arm because their employer doesn’t offer insurance.
However, there are downsides. The system is under constant strain to fulfill the rising needs of a rapidly aging population. Physicians are overworked and underpaid, and funds for infrastructure modernization are fueled primarily by private sector donations.
General physicians working at family practices make a flat rate of $30–40 per patient — regardless of how long the appointment took. And they’re limited to seeing a max of 30–40 patients per day. No wonder my doctor is always in a rush and cautions patients to stick to one issue per visit.
Because of this, true emergencies are prioritized. A healthy woman in her 30s with no visible abnormalities doesn’t fall in that category. And so, implicitly discouraging her from getting her annual pap test means one less person is clogging up an already congested system.
However, preventative care is critical — it is a predictor of future healthcare costs.
If I take a proactive approach to my health today, tomorrow, when I’m older, I’ll be stronger and healthier — and less of a drain on the healthcare system.
Maybe change needs to happen on the supply side of the equation, instead of the demand side. Perhaps the answer isn’t scaring women away from pap tests. Maybe it is to make information sharing within the healthcare system more efficient — by investing in upgrading to digital technologies (and throwing away the fax machines).
If I fail to go for my annual pap test, the only person I’m hurting is myself.
So I’ll go — reluctantly. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I don’t get a callback — not because my results have gotten lost but because everything’s fine.
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