Lengthy wait times add up to more than $1 billion in lost productivity: Study

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia face highest costs

Canadians lost a combined $1.1 billion, or an average of $1,202 per patient, as a result of lengthy waits for medically necessary health care in 2013, according to a study released by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

When calculations include hours outside the workweek — evenings and weekends, excluding eight hours of sleep per night — the estimated cost of waiting jumps from $1.1 billion to $3.4 billion, or an average of $3,681 per patient, found The Private Cost of Public Queues for Medically Necessary Care.

"The negative impact of wait times on the productivity of patients and their ability to participate fully in life is an issue too often ignored in the health-care debate. Reduced productivity in the workplace, or reduced ability to engage with family and friends, may impact family income and increase stress for Canadian patients," said Nadeem Esmail, study author and Fraser Institute director of health policy studies.

Despite a period of improvement (2004 to 2009) in both wait times (from specialist to treatment) and the private cost of waiting, since 2009 wait times have increased along with the cost borne by patients, said the study. Consequently, the private cost of waiting is now two per cent higher (after inflation) than in 2004.

Among the provinces, residents of Saskatchewan faced the highest private cost of waiting per patient ($2,022), followed by Manitoba ($1,977) and Nova Scotia ($1,732). Patients in Ontario endured the lowest private cost of waiting ($867), followed by Quebec ($1,079) and British Columbia ($1,191).

"Without sensible health policy reform, waiting will remain a defining characteristic of the Canadian health-care experience and delays, while negatively impacting the health and well-being of patients, will also continue to rob patients of valuable time," said Esmail.

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