Canada has longest wait times for primary, specialist care among 11 countries: Report

Also longer hours for caregivers
||Last Updated: 02/12/2015

Older Canadians have longer waits and more difficulties seeing a doctor or nurse when they need medical attention than 10 comparator countries, according to a report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR).

“In terms of wait times, Canada’s position among the 11 surveyed countries has not improved at all,” said CIHI president and CEO David O’Toole. “Older Canadian patients are telling us where our system is meeting — or not meeting — their needs. We definitely don’t meet their needs when it comes to timely access to doctors and nurses.”

The survey included patients aged 55 and older from 11 countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. More than 5,300 Canadians completed the survey.

Access to care

Waits for primary and specialist care in Canada have not improved since they were first reported on in 2007. Among surveyed countries, Canada continues to have the longest wait times for older people waiting to see a doctor or nurse when they need medical attention, with more than one-half waiting more than two days, and nearly one-third (30 per cent) waiting six or more days.

Older Canadians also have the longest reported wait times to see a specialist, with 25 per cent waiting two months or more for a specialist visit, found How Canada Compares: Results From The Commonwealth Fund 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults.

Despite some variation across the country, wait times in every province were significantly higher than the international average.

Older Canadians also reported more difficulties (51 per cent) in getting care after-hours or on weekends than older people in any other country. As a result, 37 per cent reported a visit to an emergency department for a condition that could have been treated by their regular doctor, found CIHI and CIHR.

Quality of care

When older Canadians do get in to see a doctor, they report receiving quality care that is on par with, or better than, the international average.

Older Canadians are more likely to have their medications reviewed by a health professional (80 per cent) than older people in other countries. They are also more likely to have discussions with their providers about treatment goals for chronic conditions and healthy life habits.

However, there’s room for improvement in terms of continuity of care between regular doctors and specialists, as 25 per cent of older Canadians said their regular doctor did not seem up to date about their specialist visit.

Caregiving and end-of-life care

Older Canadians spend longer hours as caregivers and spend more time planning for end-of-life care.

About one in five older Canadians is an informal caregiver — similar to the international average — but a higher proportion (47 per cent) spend 10 hours or more per week looking after a loved one.

About one-third of caregivers said they have experienced distress, depression or anger while providing care to a loved one. Distress was more common among those providing care for 10 or more hours a week.

Older Canadians were also more likely than older people in other countries to have discussions about end-of-life care or to make written plans. However, end-of-life planning varied significantly across the country, found the survey, with 44 per cent of Ontarian respondents saying they had written plans while just 18 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador said the same.

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