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Is it finally time for provincially appointed patient advocates?

July 8, 2014

By Colin Hung (@Colin_Hung)

Colin Hung headshot

Colin Hung

Last month, those of us who live in Ontario went to the polls for our third provincial election in just seven years. The results were surprising – Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal party won a majority which none of the experts were predicting ( You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief that there won’t be another election for at least four years.

For me, the timing of the election was horrible. In the previous two years both the Minister for Health (The Honorable Deb Matthews @Deb_Matthews) and the Ontario Ombudsman (André Marin – who tweets under the handle @Ont_Ombudsman) had publicly been talking about finally implementing provincial oversight of Ontario’s healthcare institutions through a third party (Toronto Star article Healthcare check-up: Should the province’s ombudsman have oversight of hospitals?). Ontario is the only province in Canada where the scope of the ombudsman does not include hospitals. This means that in Ontario, should there be a complaint or an issue with a hospital, the escalation process only goes through the Ministry of Health – hardly a neutral third party.

This issue was so important our friends over at HealthyDebate even had a series dedicated to this topic – Expert advice for Ontario Ombudsman on his bid for jurisdiction over hospitals and long term care facilities.

When you read the articles it is clear that Matthews and Marin did not see eye-to-eye on who that third party should be. Marin, obviously, believed that the Ombudsman office was perfectly suited to handle hospitals, but Matthews disagreed. Instead she proposed creating a separate body. In January 2014 Matthews’ publicly proposed the following:

“What we’re talking about is a health-focused patient advocate. I get letters as minister from people who aren’t happy with the care they’ve received. I think it’s really important to turn those complaints into ways to improve quality.”


Notice that Matthews didn’t use the word Ombudsman but instead chose patient advocate. Her words got me thinking – is it time that provinces in Canada have a designated person/office that is responsible for advocating on behalf of patients?

Currently, each hospital and healthcare organization in Canada has their own patient advocate – usually an individual or small department that handles patient feedback as well as complaints. These “Patient Relations” teams are fairly effective at helping patients resolve issues involving the organization they represent. [Disclosure: I used to work closely with many Patient Relations teams in Ontario in my role of VP Marketing at RL Solutions].

However, the care we receive as citizens of Canada is very rarely handled by a single organization. We have primary care physicians and specialists that we use alongside hospitals. There are also long-term care facilities, CCACs, home-care providers and now telehealth organizations that are also part of the “care team” for many Canadians. In this overlapping, heterogeneous environment it would be very difficult for a patient to know which organization to raise an issue with. Shouldn’t there be someone that patients could escalate issues to who had the ability to see across the entire healthcare continuum?

Furthermore wouldn’t it be nice to have a person (or office) that patients could turn to for help to navigate our increasingly complex healthcare system? To provide the patient perspective whenever and wherever healthcare policies are debated? To fight for patient rights and healthcare privacy? In short, isn’t it time we had a Patient Advocate at the provincial level?

I hope that Ontario’s new incoming Minister for Health – The Honorable Dr. Eric Hoskins (@DrEricHoskins) – carries on the work that Deb Matthews started. Whether or not the Provincial Patient Advocate falls under the Ombudsman or not, it is my personal opinion that this role is needed.

Join us on Wednesday July 9th at 1pm Eastern for the weekly #hcsmca tweetchat where we will be discussing the topic of a Provincial Patient Advocate.

  • T1: Is there a need for a Provincial Patient Advocate? Or is the existing system sufficient?
  • T2: Does patient advocacy and hospital oversight belong in the same place/office?
  • T3: What would a Provincial Patient Advocate be responsible for? What specific duties would they have?
  • T4: What would be the characteristics of a good Provincial Patient Advocate? What background? Knowledge?
  • T5: Do you think we will see a Provincial Patient Advocate in the next 5 years? What’s needed to make this happen?


One Comment leave one →
  1. July 10, 2014 4:41 pm

    I like your ideas Colin. This is very important issue and much needed. I’m very sorry to have missed hcsmca chat this week. Working on health issues here and MIA a lot from twitter. Will tweet this article.


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