Surgical delays cost Canadians nearly $1 billion in lost time

Average value $1,129 per week per person
||Last Updated: 07/22/2013

Long waits for surgery and medical treatment in 2012 cost Canadians more than $982 million in lost time and productivity, according to a report from public policy think-tank the Fraser Institute.

The average value of time lost during the work week was $1,129 for each of the estimated 870,462 patients waiting for surgery last year. When hours outside the work week are factored in, including evenings and weekends (less eight hours of sleep per night), the estimated cost of waiting vaults to about $3,447 per patient — more than $3 billion in total, found The Private Cost of Public Queues for Medically Necessary Care.

"Canadians face some of the longest waits for health care in the developed world. This creates unnecessary pain and suffering for patients and their families and reduces their ability to participate fully in their lives," said Nadeem Esmail, Fraser Institute director of health policy studies and author of the study.

Using data from the institute's annual survey of health-care wait times (which found that Canadians waited 9.3 weeks, on average, from an appointment with a specialist to receiving treatment in 2012), the report estimated patients waited a combined 10.6 million weeks for treatment last year.

The true private cost of waiting for Canadian health care in 2012 was likely higher than $982 million, or more than the $3 billion estimate, said the report, when hours outside the work week are included. These estimates only consider costs borne by the individual waiting for treatment.

Neither estimate includes the costs of care provided by family members (such as time spent caring for the individual waiting for treatment) and their lost productivity due to worry. Medical costs such as an increased risk of mortality or adverse events resulting from long delays for treatment are also not included. In addition, the estimates consider only waits from specialist to treatment and do not capture the private cost of waiting for either diagnostic tests or for an appointment with a specialist.

"Protracted waits for health care deprive Canadians of wages, productivity and enjoyment of life," said Esmail. "Canada should embrace sensible health policy reforms based on the successes of countries like Switzerland, Japan and the Netherlands, all of which provide high-quality and prompt health care regardless of patients' ability to pay."

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