Health-care rationing subject of expert's talk

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

Are health-care resources being rationed ethically?

Prof. Donald Light of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania examines the issue in one of several public events taking place during Health Sciences Week, Oct. 5-9.

In his lecture, The Real Ethics of Rationing: Putting Patients Last, Light questions how hospital administrators and government allocate health-care services.

Light contends that health-care services are rationed well before individual clinical decisions are made.

"Resources may be locked up in organizational, professional and political arrangements that entrench waste and force rationing downstream to the patient," he says.

Such arrangements include a fee-based payment system that pays physicians according to the number of individual items billed. Light says this structure tends to encourage numerous costly high-technology interventions.

Light argues that if government and the health-care professions want to minimize the rationing of care to sick patients, they need to address wasteful processes such as overtesting, inappropriate prescribing and the provision of care by doctors that could be done by nurses.

The lecture takes place Tuesday, Oct. 6 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in Woodward IRC, lecture hall 4, and connects with the theme of Health Sciences Week -- Rationing or Rationalization: The Future Health Care System?

Light will also chair a panel discussion on Tuesday, Oct. 6 from 4:30-6 p.m. in Woodward IRC, lecture hall 4.

Kelly Bannister, PhD candidate in the Dept. of Botany, is one of the keynote speakers at the Health Sciences Student Research Forum, taking place from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7 in Woodward IRC, lecture hall 4, lobby and seminar rooms.

Her presentation looks at current efforts to find new drugs from medicinal plants used by aboriginal societies in B.C.

She will explore ethical issues, such as the appropriation of traditional knowledge and the impact of the search for plant-derived medicines on biological diversity.

Economics PhD student, Steve Morgan, presents the second keynote address, focusing on health-care rationing issues related to B.C.'s Pharmacare program.

In his presentation he explores arguments used in the case against universal payment for pharmaceuticals in Canada.

Morgan will analyse three major criticisms of a universal pharmacare program, using evidence from B.C. and Quebec.

The forum also includes more than 100 poster presentations in the Woodward IRC lobby. Topics range from prenatal diagnoses to analysis of DNA in teeth exposed to various environmental conditions.

Three interdisciplinary teams of health sciences students demonstrate their skills in assessment and management of a problem case in the health-care team clinical competition that takes place Thursday, Oct. 8 from 12:30-2 p.m. in Woodward IRC, lecture hall 2.

This year's J.F. McCreary Interdisciplinary Health Care Award will be presented to the Quality Improvement Team at Richmond Hospital emergency program.

The team, comprising emergency department staff, pharmacists, nurses and doctors, reduced the waiting time for thrombolytic therapy to heart attack patients from 62 minutes to 40.

The treatment, which should be given within 30 to 60 minutes of arrival at an emergency ward, breaks up blood clots that block blood supply to the heart.

Designed to create a sense of common purpose among students from the health and human service programs, Health Sciences week is named in honour of the late John F. McCreary, former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences Co-ordinator.

For more information about Health Sciences Week, contact Maureen Dunn, administrator, Office of the Co-ordinator of Health Sciences, 604-822-4747.