Books & Papers

Knowable Now
Knowable known unknowns of Canadian health care
Brian Ferguson

The latest Canadian Health Care Consensus Group (CHCCG) Background Paper, Knowable Now: Knowable known unknowns of Canadian health care explains that much of the information collected on Canada's health care system is considered to be unusable because it is not comparable between provinces, incomplete or inconsistent. Worse, it is then mothballed and not made available to researchers and health care academics who could use it to provide solutions to pressing problems like wait times and tracking federal funds for specific projects.

Knowable Now points out that there is much untapped research potential for effective policy that could come of proper use of the data. The key is allowing researchers to access them.

"We have massive amounts of data. It’s not perfect, but it’s there and we could make a lot more use of it for policy purposes than we do. ...think in terms of synergies between those who have the data and need it analyzed, and those who would love to get their hands on data to analyze."

The paper suggests the solution lies with provincial health departments, especially in smaller provinces. Provincial databases have the advantage of being large enough to be statistically relevant but small enough to be workable for researchers. By working together researchers and governments will both benefit; by not co-operating the effort put into collecting all that data is wasted.

"The key point, though, is that if the provincial governments really want to know about things like waiting times for surgery in their health systems, they’re going to have to find out for themselves… Most of the smaller provinces have, in their departments of health, civil servants who, for purposes of policy development, want and need to have health care system data analyzed but who don’t have the time or the resources to do it in-house."

Knowable Now concludes that using information gathered by health care establishments on a provincial level and providing greater access to researchers and academics would greatly assist policy makers.

"The major reason we know as little as we do about things like waiting times is that, instead of looking at the messy pile of information we have and asking how we could use it to answer the questions we need answered, we’ve been looking for a file labelled "perfect data on waiting times" and, not seeing it, have spent our time talking about how difficult it would be to build it…It’s time we got past that."

Members of the Canadian Health Care Consensus Group (CHCCG) came together last year to provide a platform for bold, reasoned and practical plans for genuine reform of the health care system and to demonstrate that there is an emerging consensus among reform-minded observers about the direction that real reform must take. The CHCCG, coordinated by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), includes medical practitioners, former health ministers, past presidents of the Canadian Medical Association and provincial medical and hospital associations, academics, and health care policy experts, all of whom are signatories to the group’s Statement of Principles.

Knowable Now is one of a series of background papers prepared for the CHCCG, which are intended to contribute to that new debate. These papers do not represent official positions of the Consensus Group, and are not themselves consensus documents, but rather are intended to act as starting points for debate, some of which will occur on the Consensus Group’s website (www.consensusgroup.ca).

To read the complete paper, click here. 

This research was made possible through the generous support of the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation.