Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2014 Report

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This edition of Waiting Your Turn indicates that, overall, waiting times for medically necessary treatment have not improved since last year. Specialist physicians surveyed across 10 provinces and 12 specialties report a median waiting time of 18.2 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment. This wait time is 96% than in 1993 when it was just 9.3 weeks.

There is a great deal of variation in the total waiting time faced by patients across the provinces. Ontario reports the shortest total wait (14.1 weeks), followed by Saskatchewan (14.2 weeks), and Quebec (16.9 weeks). On the other hand, New Brunswick reports the longest wait at 37.3 weeks, followed by Prince Edward Island (35.9 weeks) and Nova Scotia (32.7 weeks).

The same is true of variation among specialties. Patients wait longest between a GP referral and orthopaedic surgery (42.2 weeks), neurosurgery (31.2 weeks), and plastic surgery (27.1 weeks). By contrast, the shortest total waits exist for medical oncology (3.3 weeks), radiation oncology (4.2 weeks), and elective cardiovascular surgery (9.9 weeks)

Physicians also indicate that, across the 12 specialties, patients generally wait more than three weeks longer than what they consider “clinically reasonable” for treatment after seeing a specialist.

The study also estimates that, across the 10 provinces, the total number of procedures for which people are waiting in 2014 is 937,345—9,225 more than in 2013. This means that, assuming that each person waits for only one procedure, 2.7% of Canadians are waiting for treatment in 2014. Importantly, physicians report that only about 10.4% of their patients are on a waiting list because they requested a delay or postponement.

Patients also experience significant waiting times for various diagnostic technologies across the provinces. This year, Canadians could expect to wait 3.8 weeks for a computed tomography (CT) scan, 8.7 weeks for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and 3.3 weeks for an ultrasound.

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 results of this year’s survey make it clear that, despite provincial strategies for reducing wait times and high levels of health expenditure, patients in Canada continue to wait too long to receive medically necessary treatment.

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