Long Wait times in Canada

Why Are Wait Times in Canada So Long?

Christie Auyeung General Health, Travel Leave a Comment

Canadians have long wait times for health care compared to their peers in other countries. In fact, when it comes to providing timely access to medical care, Canada pretty much sits at the bottom of the list.

Let’s break down this issue into four parts: how Canadian wait times compare to that of other countries, the consequences of long wait times, the reasons behind long wait times and possible solutions.


How Does Wait Time in Canada Compare to That of Other Countries?

The Commonwealth Fund and the Canadian Institute of Health Information published a study of wait times in 11 countries, including Australia, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the United States. Canada scored the lowest for ability to get same-day and next-day appointments, emergency visit wait time, specialist wait time, and elective surgery wait time. A survey by the Fraser Institute determined the median wait time for medically necessary treatments and procedures in 2016 was 20 weeks, the longest recorded wait time since the organization started tracking in 1993.


What Are the Consequences of Long Wait Times?

Long wait times are more than an inconvenience. While some patients may be able to wait for treatment, other patients may experience pain, discomfort, worse medical outcomes, or be unable to use their time productively. Wait times have an economic consequence as well. The Huffington Post estimated the cost of time lost while waiting for treatment was $1.7 billion in 2016.


Why Are Wait Times So Long?

Some people argue that long wait times are the price Canadians pay for universal health care, which ensures access to treatment regardless of the ability to pay. However, the evidence suggests otherwise. Every country examined, except the United States, has a universal health care system. But they do universal healthcare differently.

There are a number of factors that contribute to longer wait times in Canada, including:

  • Not embracing the private sector: Other countries tend to embrace the private sector as a partner within the universal healthcare systems and require patients to share part of the costs. The private sector operates as an alternative, which reduces the number of patients crowding the public system and reduces wait times.
  • A global budgeting system: Hospitals in Canada are paid according to a budgeting system. The system does help to control overall cost, but incentivizes hospitals to turn away or postpone treatment for patients that are seen as costly. Other countries have some type of funding based on activity and productivity, which incentivizes hospitals to take on more patients even if they are high cost.
  • Lack of transparency on physician wait times: Primary care doctors will often refer patients to specialists without knowing how long the patient will have to wait. They may send patients to see a specialist with a longer wait time, when another specialist may be more readily available.

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What Are Some Solutions to Shorten Wait Times?

Long wait times are clearly a serious issue in Canada, and the culprit is not that the country has a universal healthcare system, it’s how the country operates its universal healthcare system. There are a number of solutions that are based on what’s working in other countries. For example, embracing the private sector to take some pressure off of universal healthcare resources, incentivizing hospitals to take on more patients even if they are higher cost, and centralizing specialist estimated wait times so doctors can send patients to specialists who are more readily available.


What Are Other Options for Canadians Who Need Treatment Now?

Changing Canada’s healthcare system is no easy feat, and policy makers will ultimately have to consider solutions that would work best in a Canadian context. This will take time, and many patients can’t wait that long to receive the treatment they need.

Going abroad to get medical treatment is an alternative option for patients who need quality healthcare quickly. Doctors in other countries can often prioritize seeing international patients as soon as possible, and are held to a high standard of care. Top quality healthcare is often considerably cheaper than in Canada, too.

That’s where we come in – MedRepublic has successfully connected patients from Canada with top-rated doctors around the world. For 11 years, we we have been reducing the time and costs patients have to pay for medical treatment.
If medical travel is an option , take a look at our post about bringing medication into Canada.

Interested in learning more about traveling abroad for medical treatment? Check out our website and reach out to one of our world-class doctors today!

Christie is a UChicago grad currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. In her free time, she enjoys tap dancing, learning to windsurf, and trying new foods.