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Canadians Report Longer Waits for Medical Care than Peer Countries

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).

Canada ranks below the international average on seven out of eight measures of timely access to medical care when compared to peer countries including New Zealand, Norway and France.

These measures include accessing same day, next day and evening appointments, getting answers to medical questions on the same day, spending more than four hours in emergency departments and waiting more than four months to see a specialist.

However, British Columbians report better than average outcomes on certain measures.

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“Only 17% said they waited more than four hours and that’s compared to 29% for Canada’s numbers so BC seems to be making some inroads on the emergency department waits,” says Tracy Johnson, Director of Director of Health Systems Analysis and Emerging Issues at CIHI.

They also feel their care providers are better than average in several respects including making medical options easy to understand. The province’s care providers also get above average marks for knowing their patient’s medical histories, involving patients in medical decision making and reviewing medications.

“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. BC also stands out around making laboratory results and tests available. It’s on a par with the international average.”

14% of British Columbians say they access test and lab results online.

One of the studies most interesting findings shows a divide between care providers and patients. While Canadian doctors say access to timely care is getting better, most patients don’t feel the same way. Only about 1/3 of patients say it’s relatively easy to access care after hours – while nearly half of physicians say the same thing.

“That’s the feedback loop that doctors actually need,” says Johnson. “All of us in healthcare can improve things but if it doesn’t really improve them for the patients…we may think we’ve hit best ways to do that but asking your patients is the best way to figure out if you got it right or not.”

However, once they do get medical care, Canadians generally report experiences with their regular providers that are better than the international average.

Canadians also report better than average access to mental health services with 59% saying they were able to access professional care when needed compared to the international average of 54%.

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

“It’s good to benchmark ourselves outside of our borders. We all look, when it comes to same day or next day access, across the country and it’s all about the same. One might think that was great if one didn’t know that there are other countries that have done better than that.”

You can read the institute’s full report here.

(Files from Shannon Waters with MYPRINCEGEORGENOW)

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