According to a new study, Inuit in Nunavut are 25% more likely to experience a serious complication within one month of surgery than non-Inuit patients.
The percentage rises to 58% when it comes to elective surgeries and 63% for cancer surgeries.
A team of Canadian researchers, including Inuit researchers and other Indigenous researchers, believe this is because Inuit in Nunavut face barriers to accessing timely and culturally appropriate health care.
The researchers matched Inuit patients from the Qikiqtaaluk region, which includes Iqaluit, with non-Inuit patients who had similar surgeries, age and medical conditions over a seven-year period. They reviewed their results within 30 days of surgery at The Ottawa Hospital, which serves the area.
The peer-reviewed study, published in JAMC Openis the first to examine Inuit surgical outcomes.
In addition to higher rates of complications, researchers also found higher rates of hospital readmissions during those 30 days or longer hospital stays than non-Inuit patients, according to Dr. Donna May. Kimmaliardjuk, Canada’s first Inuit heart surgeon, who is one of the study’s authors.
She added that the higher rates lead to higher hospital care costs “and a greater chance of being discharged to a long-term care or assisted living facility rather than being able to go straight home.” “.
Dr. Jason McVicar, a Métis anesthesiologist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who led the study, said the healthier patients are when they arrive for surgery, the better are their results.
He said that because Inuit in Nunavut face systemic barriers, including simple access to primary care, they often come in for surgery when their illnesses are more advanced than other Canadians.
“It makes surgery more difficult and increases our risk of complications later on,” added May Kimmaliardjuk.
May Kimmaliardjuk said she hopes the study will lead to policy changes and improve outcomes for Inuit.
She said she would like to see fully staffed health centers in Nunavut communities, as well as more resources to do blood tests, x-rays or ultrasounds.
She would also like to see continued investment in the Iqaluit hospital, so that more patients can be diagnosed and treated in the North.
She said she would also like to see investments in telehealth so people can access specialists, like heart surgeons, much earlier and more cost-effectively.
She said that while Inuit face more barriers than non-Inuit, including racism, they need to be their own best advocates.
“I know it’s very difficult when you come across a healthcare provider who is racist or doesn’t take your complaint seriously. And we know that exists,” she said.
But she encourages Inuit to keep pushing health care providers until they get the health care they know they need.
“Don’t settle for less,” she said.
“Just because you live doesn’t mean you have less equitable access to care in Canada, a first world country. [It’s] what everyone in Canada deserves, no matter where you live or your ethnic background. »