Talk about your mixed messages

Pam
Pam Frampton
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

A black box with white lettering on your computer screen contains a simple message: "341 days to wait for a psychiatrist appointment. …"
The image changes to a depressed-looking man against a black background. Above his head are the words: "How much life is lost waiting?"
Then we're back to a plain black box again, only this time it contains the words: "We need more doctors in Newfoundland & Labrador," followed by the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) logo and website.
The simple, three-frame ad campaign is running on The Telegram's website.
If you've ever spent any time waiting to see a physician in this province - whether that means you couldn't find a family doctor willing to take new patients, or you waited months to see a specialist or several hours to see an emergency room doctor - those ads have the ring of truth.
I'm lucky enough to be healthy, but I've had a couple of bad allergic reactions on weekends in the past year that sent me scrambling to emergency. In both cases, my condition improved sufficiently over the multi-hour wait that I could return home without having seen a doctor. But I saw people in the ER who were far worse off than me who were still there when I left, and waited God knows how long.
"You shouldn't have told them you were well enough to walk," one older woman chided her frail-looking husband after they were assessed by the efficient but overburdened triage nurse and told to take a seat.
Clearly that couple could be forgiven for thinking we need more doctors here.
People often wait months for surgeries and tests that could reveal they are terminally ill. We've all heard stories about people who died within weeks of being diagnosed with cancer. And then their family's grief is complicated by the anguish of wondering if they could've been saved if they had gotten in to see a doctor sooner.
So, yeah, it certainly seems like we could use more doctors.

Tough act to follow
Now, contrast the NLMA's blunt advertisement with a news release issued by the Department of Health on April 29, headlined, "More physicians working in the province than ever before."
It's peppered with stats and bureaucratese. Here are a few word-for-word examples:

• Newfoundland and Labrador has more physicians employed than at any time in the history of the province, and the provincial government is investing record amounts of tax dollars into health care delivery for the people.
• This year's total health care budget of approximately $2.7 billion has contributed to the success of recruitment and retention of physicians in the province.
• The provincial government is spending significant money in the province's health care sector with a record investment of $2.7 billion in Budget 2010. This investment is over $1 billion more than what it was 10 years ago.
• According to a recent analysis of health-care spending by Toronto-based Dale Orr Economic Insight, Newfoundland and Labrador spends $1,000 more per person - or about 30 per cent more - than Quebec, which is the lowest spending province.
• According to a 2009 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) report, Newfoundland and Labrador was expected in 2009 to spend the most per capita on public health care in the country at $4,491.
• Since 2004, the provincial government has awarded 299 bursaries, each with a one-year return-in-service commitment, to 177 Memorial University medical school applicants. This represents an investment of almost $7 million.

Are you still with me? It's a lot of information to grapple with, and that's just the Reader's Digest condensed version.
Now, I don't doubt the accuracy of the information in the news release. This administration has made health care a priority and is putting money - billions of dollars - where its mouth is. And it can't solve every problem by throwing money at it; there are limited funds in the public purse, after all.
But it needs to find a more convincing way to present its position. The fact that government departments have professional communicators on staff clearly doesn't mean that politicians always take their advice about getting the message out.
Stats and factoids make for tedious reading, and the amount of money the province spends on health care per capita, or per annum, or compared to last year, or compared to another province, means nothing if you or someone you love has a worrisome lump and the wait to see a specialist is several months to a year.
The physicians' position is clear: the province needs more doctors and must do more to keep the doctors it already has. It's a simple message people can relate to.
And if the government doesn't come up with a more effective message of its own, it will lose this war of words.
On Wednesday, the province rolled out a "Health Care Public Awareness Campaign," which basically condenses the information in the April 29 news release into bite-size ads, with the tagline, "Together we are building a stronger health-care system."
On Friday, both sides were talking to each other again. Let's hope they reach a compromise.
Meanwhile, as the NLMA ad succinctly puts it, "How much life is lost waiting?"
Now that's a message that hits home.

Pam Frampton is the Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: Newfoundland

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    The only way anything will change in this province is if the PEOPLE change . Apparently we have this inborn need to be punished . We elect politicians who want to do it their way , or no way . The cultural climate is such that we attract power hungry individuals , more interested in their needs than ours . As a people we willing submit to subjugation . Until the psyche of our people undergoes a revolution , then we are doomed to live as a suppressed people .

  • Newfie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Great story Pam.

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    The only way anything will change in this province is if the PEOPLE change . Apparently we have this inborn need to be punished . We elect politicians who want to do it their way , or no way . The cultural climate is such that we attract power hungry individuals , more interested in their needs than ours . As a people we willing submit to subjugation . Until the psyche of our people undergoes a revolution , then we are doomed to live as a suppressed people .

  • Newfie
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    Great story Pam.