Sameer Vasta on equity, privilege, and how to have difficult conversations about health

Sameer Vasta was in university in the U.S. when he injured his knee and required surgery. He remembers spending hours filling out forms before he was given care.

Though he knew that U.S. and Canadian health care policy were nothing alike, this was the first time he noticed a difference in care between the two systems. “In Canada, it was always like, ‘let’s get you treated, then worry about all the other stuff that needs to get done, like paperwork,” he says. This observation piqued his curiosity around how health care was delivered, to whom, and for what.

After injuring his knee while in the U.S., Sameer was required to fill out forms for hours before receiving care.

Today, Sameer works for the Ontario Digital Service, and he’s fortunate to have benefits that cover many of his healthcare costs. But for many years, he worked as a freelancer, and the experience of paying for many services out of pocket was humbling. “It’s only when you’re paying for health care or don’t have benefits that you think about the costs. Even in Canada, where we have universal health care, there’s still this idea that there are things that some people get and some don’t. Like dental coverage: because I was self-employed, it wasn’t something I could afford right away. I had to save up for it.”

That experience got Sameer thinking about the decisions he was able to make that other people couldn’t. For him, procedures like wisdom teeth removal wasn’t a question; he knew he would inevitably pay the bill to have them removed. But he knew it wasn’t the same for everyone. “What about the people who can’t make that decision?” he wonders. “What about the people who have to ask, ‘do I feed my family, or do I get my wisdom teeth out?’”

“What about the people who have to ask, ‘do I feed my family, or do I get my wisdom teeth out?’”

These types of questions led Sameer down a lifelong quest of exploring equity within healthcare. And he doesn’t believe that equity is only financial. “We always talk about money as a currency — but we should also be thinking about knowledge,” he says. “Some people have all the information available to them, so they can ask their doctor the right questions and pursue the right care.” He champions the idea that information is a valuable currency in health care, and that privilege plays a big role in distributing that currency.

Sameer is also quick to recognize and talk about his own privilege. “I grew up in North America. I’m married to a doctor. I know the right questions to ask, like what about types of care I can get that other people don’t even know exist. How can we make this information available to everyone?” he asks.

“Money isn’t the only currency. Knowledge is a currency. Some people have all the information available to them, so they can ask their doctor the right questions and pursue the right care.”

Sameer believes that part of the solution is giving people access to the health information that is going to empower them to pursue the right type of care. For him, part of that was understanding his own medical history: Sameer has a family history of heart disease, with many relatives having had a heart attack by 45. Many don’t live beyond retirement.

He felt as though there was a proactive attitude among his family members, but it seemed to lack impetus. Unexpectedly, having access to his own health information helped him communicate with his family. “Before, it was kind of like, ok, we don’t want to get sick, so make sure you’re exercising and eating well,” he recalls. Once he had access to his health information, he was able to sit down with his dad and show him the trend lines and values. “My dad never understood what it meant to have high cholesterol in a way that was tangible or tactical. Suddenly having access to this concrete proof of my own improvements made a huge difference. No longer was it, ‘my doctor said this,’ but a loved one speaking openly about what these values meant in real, concrete ways.”

Having access to his own information helped Sameer communicate with his father about health and daily behaviours.

Sameer believes information parity is at the core of solving a lot of our challenges in health care. Though he doesn’t believe there will ever be true information parity between individuals and their care providers, he believes that access to the relevant information helps us manage our own care and have effective conversations with our care providers. “Our bodies are kind of like cars. We trust the mechanics to know what’s going on in our vehicles. But the difference is that our bodies are not some external piece of equipment. The difference between us and our bodies is none. So we need to be able to react and plan for the big health care decisions in our lives.”

This is part of Dot Health’s #HealthStories series, where we highlight individuals from across Canada and their experience with the healthcare system in Canada as a patient, caregiver, or advocate.

Dot Health is a Toronto-based digital health company that believes health information belongs in the hands of its owner: you. Through our web andmobile app, we empower Canadians to own and control their health data, from clinics, hospitals, labs, and pharmacies.

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