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Canadian Patients And Doctors Are Sharing 'Excruciating' Wait Times On Twitter

#CanadaWAITS is shedding light on a serious problem.

11/03/2017 14:21 EDT | Updated 11/03/2017 14:22 EDT
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"Insane."

"An eternity."

"Excruciating."

These are just some of the descriptors patients and doctors across Canada are using as they reveal the wait times they've encountered for referrals, elective surgery, in emergency rooms, and to get a family doctor. Using the hashtag #CanadaWAITS, Canadians are shedding light on what some are calling a serious problem with the current health-care system.

The Twitter campaign started Nov. 2 in response to a call-out by André Picard, an award-winning author and health columnist at The Globe and Mail.

By the next day, #CanadaWAITS had been used more than 500 times across North America and made more than one million impressions, according to Keyhole's hashtag tracking analytics.

Health-care professionals, patients, and parents have joined the discussion, some of them citing a 2005 Supreme Court of Canada decision that stated "access to a waiting list is not access to health care." That decision, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, noted that patients can die as a result of waiting lists for public health care.

Medical wait times in Canada are longer than those experienced in other developed countries, according to survey data released this year by The Canadian Institute for Health Information. In the survey of 11 countries (Canada, United States, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia, and France), Canadians reported the longest wait times for specialists and non-emergency surgeries.

Emergency room wait times were also the longest in Canada, with 29 per cent reporting they had to wait four or more hours during their last visit.

And only 43 per cent of Canadians reported being able to get an appointment with their regular medical provider on or within a day of needing medical attention, which was the lowest percentage of all 11 countries.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information did note that "Canadians generally report positive experiences with their regular providers" once they do receive medical care.

Some Canadians used the hashtag to share their own positive experiences, especially with emergency care.

But the majority of the conversation has been negative. Dr. Joy Hataley in Kingston, Ont., shared that a patient of hers faces a 4.5-year wait to see a neurologist, a length of time she called "insane" in an interview with CTV News.

And that wasn't even the worst of it.

"Waiting for treatment has become a defining characteristic of Canadian health care," the Fraser Institute wrote in a 2016 report.

This is despite provincial strategies to reduce wait times, the institute noted.

"Wait times can, and do, have serious consequences such as increased pain, suffering, and mental anguish. In certain instances, they can also result in poorer medical outcomes— transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities," the report said.

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