LIVING

Canadian Patients Wait Longest To See Family Doctors

01/20/2014 07:27 EST | Updated 03/22/2014 05:59 EDT
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Different people sitting in a waiting room of a hospital
Canada ranks last among 11 OECD countries in a new survey in terms of how quickly people can get in to see their regular family physicians, showing "where a person lives does matter," says the Health Council of Canada.

The finding was published in the council's final bulletin, based on data from the 2013 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of the General Public.

The council, an independent national agency, has been reporting on health-care renewal since 2003. 

The report, titled "Where You Live Matters: Canadian views on health care quality," focuses on differences across the provinces, comparisons among the 11 OECD countries that took part in the survey between March and June 2013, and changes in Canada’s performance over the past decade.

"These results show that where a person lives does matter," says a release accompanying the report. "Canada shows largely disappointing performance compared to other high-income countries, some of which have made impressive progress. Also, there is considerable variation among provinces."

SEE: Which provinces rank as the best for waiting times, and which rank as the worst? Story continues below:

Doctor Waiting Times By Province

The report notes that improvement in reducing wait times has been modest and is often lacking, and concerns Canadians. Only 31 to 46 per cent of Canadians, depending on the province, could get an appointment the same day or the next day, not including emergency department visits.

"Canada is in last place among all countries surveyed in this regard, with no improvement since 2004," the release says.

Even people in the U.S. have quicker access to their family doctors, with 48 per cent of those polled saying they could get a same-day or next-day appointment, ranking second last among the 11 countries. 

Germany was listed as first in how quickly residents saw their doctors, at 76 per cent, followed by New Zealand at 72 per cent and Switzerland at 69 per cent. 

Many Canadians don't have a regular doctor

Despite the wait-time finding among countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 42 per cent of Canadian adult respondents agreed that "on the whole, the system works pretty well and only minor changes are needed," up from 22 per cent in 2004. 

However, "while this report indicates that Canadians’ views on health care and their own health status appears optimistic, it raises important questions on the wide variations we see among provinces in a number of areas such as access to after-hours care, emergency department wait times, affordability of care, coordination among care providers, and the uptake of screening programs," said Dr. Mark Dobrow, the group’s director of analysis and reporting. 

The findings include: 

- Between three per cent and 15 per cent of Canadians, depending on the province, do not have a regular doctor or clinic. 

- Accessing medical care after hours without resorting to emergency care is difficult for 62 per cent of Canadians, ranging from 56 per cent in B.C. to 76 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador. In contrast, the U.K. cut its problem in half over the same time period. 

- Between 31 per cent and 46 per cent of Canadians said they could get a same-day or next-day appointment when needed outside of an emergency visit — the worst of countries surveyed and with no improvement since 2004. 

- 61 per cent of Canadians rate their health as very good or excellent. 

- 36 per cent of Canadians take two or more prescription drugs, among the highest use of prescription drugs of the 11 countries surveyed.  

- 21 per cent of Canadians skipped dental care in the past year due to cost. 

- 37 per cent of Canadians said their regular doctor did not seem informed about care they had received in the emergency department, a finding that has not improved since 2004. 

- 20 per cent of Canadians hospitalized overnight left without written instructions about what they should do and what symptoms to watch for at home. 

- Between 23 per cent and 49 per cent of Canadians age 50 or older have never had a test to screen for bowel or colon cancer. 

"We still use hospital emergency departments for too much of our primary care. And we show largely disappointing performance compared to other high-income countries, some of which have made impressive progress," the report’s authors concluded. 

"The provinces and territories will need to dig deeper into these survey data and other sources to understand the reasons for the differences identified in this bulletin and consider what can be done to reduce inequities in health and health care for all Canadians."

The other countries included in the survey are: Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States.