Hard rock and hard truths
Television shows are not reality…even (perhaps particularly) the reality TV ones.
But when it comes to producing a vivid portrayal of challenges facing a particular sector of society, television can sometimes offer important glimpses.
In reviewing the important findings in the latest Health Quality Ontario report: Health in the North A report on geography and the health of people in Ontario’s two northern regions, one particular show came to mind.
Hard Rock Medical, is a Canadian television show now in its third season which portrays medical students and their teachers coping with the unique challenges of providing care in Ontario’s north at a fictional medical school modelled on the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
As Globe and Mail TV critic John Doyle wrote in a recent favourable review of the show, “Yes, students travel by snowmobile to rescue a lumberjack with severed fingers, look after locals with hypothermia and care for seniors who have serious addiction issues, but Hard Rock Medical is neither a public-service announcement nor an earnest documentary-style drama.” He likens the show to a “smart soap opera … anchored firmly in Northern Ontario.”
As someone who practised medicine in Northern Ontario in the earlier days of my career I can attest to the unique challenges facing medical students and health care providers having to work in an environment where long distances, challenging weather conditions and the lack of some medical resources (including healthcare providers) are ever-present realities.
These challenges facing those who work tirelessly to provide care in our two northernmost Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) are part of the reason those living in these LHINs do not have the same standard of health and health care seen in other parts of the province.
But other inequities associated with the social determinants of health – income, and access to proper housing, clean water and adequate nutrition – play a big role.
All of these challenges and inequities add up to a grim total of higher mortality rates and lower life expectancy in the population overall. People in Northern Ontario have a life expectancy more than 2 years lower than the provincial overall and are more likely to die (before age 75) due to suicide, circulatory disease and respiratory disease.
With our commitment to health equity, Health Quality Ontario feels more can be done to address health equity in the North. We see health equity as one of the six core dimensions of quality care, along with safety, effectiveness, patient-centeredness, efficiency, and timeliness.
There is progress being made – including creation of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine mirrored in Hard Rock Medical. Medical students are being trained in northern communities of all sizes and students who graduate are staying in the north to provide care – both important advances.
With the assistance of Health Quality Ontario, a number of health leaders in the north met last fall to discuss how to address this issue of bringing more health equity to Northern Ontario. We are continuing to work to support this initiative as it moves to develop a strategy specific to the region.
I would urge even those of you not directly involved with providing health care in Northern Ontario to read the “Health in the North” report for a sense of the large-scale picture only glimpsed in the vignettes that make up “Hard Rock Medical” on your TV screen. It is a vital part of our province and country.