New online timeline looks at Sask. health care history and inequality

New online timeline looks at Sask. health care history and inequality

A new website has been unveiled this week that offers users a unique interactive timeline of Saskatchewan's health-care history — from the first hospital in what would later be Saskatchewan, which opened in 1781 in Cumberland House, to the birth of medicare and eHealth — but also looks at inequalities in the province's health-care system.

The History of Health in Saskatchewan interactive timeline is the the creation of professors and researchers from the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit, or SPHERU, a health research unit based at the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan.

Their goal was to analyze the inequalities of the health-care system in Saskatchewan, and how past decisions have had an impact on the health of different populations in the province.

"We know health inequalities exist," said Tom McIntosh, a professor in U of R's department of politics and international studies and a member of the SPHERU team.

"We can find all the data, like who lives longer and who doesn't … as in Indigenous [compared] to non-Indigenous, north, south, rural and urban," McIntosh said.

"What we didn't know was where these things arose historically."

McIntosh and his team have reviewed the historical patterns and outcomes of those different populations, and looked at factors like policies around social services. 

The goal of the project was not only to illustrate the history of health care, but also how it transformed over the years.

The project began by compiling the research group's data, and they found themselves with a vast amount of information.

It was suggested by a member of the group that an interactive timeline would be an easy way for the general public to access all that information.

The process then began of digitizing all the data and putting it into a format that was user friendly.

"Our thought was if we did this right it would be a really interesting way to teach people both in high school and in university about the history of health and why it's important to look at health in this broad way, in terms of the economy, social relationships and geography, and all of those different things," said McIntosh.

SPHERU is now hoping to make the timeline an open-access educational tool that could be utilized in the future.

McIntosh said they also looked at how the health-care system was influenced by policy and other factors, such as the doctors strike in the 1960s and the change in Saskatchewan's mainly agriculture-based lifestyle.

Factors like these affected how health care was delivered to the population, and in some cases how it was served.

There are currently 317 entries on the timeline, with hopes that it will become a living document to which the public can also contribute.

"We are only beginning to scratch the surface of what we could put in there," said McIntosh.

"There is a whole bunch of data around various points in time that aren't there yet, there are whole histories of different institutions that aren't there yet. And so we are slowly hoping to fill it in."

Currently, SPHERU is looking to keep the project going by finding funding to add more information as new information comes up, or as the health care landscape changes.