Canada falling behind in timely access to health care

Posted February 18, 2017

"BC has some of the leading numbers with respect to rating care as excellent or very good when you get in to your family doctor".

Canadians report some of the longest wait times in the world when it comes to accessing medical care according to a new report from the Canadian Institute on Health Information (CIHI). While Canadian doctors say access to timely care is getting better, most patients don't feel the same way.

That's nearly three times the global average of 11 per cent of patients who had to wait that long.

A new worldwide survey pegs Canada behind 10 other wealthy nations when it comes to receiving quick access to health care.

In Switzerland, the proportion of patients who waited that long was 22 per cent; in the US, it was 24 per cent.

The report, part of a survey of residents in 11 countries sponsored by the USA -based Commonwealth Fund, shows 29 per cent of Canadians had to wait four hours or longer before being seen by a practitioner during their most recent emergency department visit.

We also wait the longest for specialists: About 56 per cent of Canadians said it took longer than four weeks to see a specialist.

Mixed results of a new worldwide study on health care.

The survey involved patients from 11 counties including the United States.

"While Canadians might think we have the best health-care system in the world, global comparisons help to provide important perspective", Tracy Johnson, director of CIHI's health system analysis and emerging issues, said. "However, once they do go get medical care, Canadians generally report positive experiences with their regular providers, as well as co-ordination of care between providers that is similar to or better than the worldwide average", the authors said.

Green said electronic communication platforms - such as patient portals, tele-home care and virtual visits - can improve access and cut wait times by reducing some in-person appointments with physicians.

The Commonwealth Fund describes itself as a private USA foundation that aims to promote a high-functioning health-care system.

Still, that figure was an improvement over the last time the Commonwealth Fund asked the question in 2013, when only 38 per cent of Canadian patients said they could see their doctors right away.

Only 34 per cent of Canadians said it was easy or somewhat easy to get medical care outside the emergency department on evening or weekends.

Still, Canada was far from a complete bust in its rankings compared to the other countries.

Canada's health-care system scored better on meeting the needs of individual patients.

74 per cent of Canadians rated the care they received from their own doctor in the a year ago as very good or excellent, second only to New Zealand.

Whatever the findings, Johnson says the worldwide comparison is useful.

"The report doesn't provide all of the answers, but it does point to where we should be looking".