November 10, 2017 — In 2015, more than 25 million courses of antibiotics were prescribed in the country — the equivalent of almost 1 prescription for every Canadian age 20 to 69. According to new data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), antibiotics are prescribed more frequently in Canada than in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

The data also reveals that

  • Every day, about 20 out of 1,000 Canadians take a dose of antibiotics.
  • Canadian clinicians prescribe 33% more antibiotics than clinicians in countries like the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.
  • In all OECD countries, 3 out of 5 antibiotic prescriptions were for diagnoses considered inappropriate such as common colds and related symptoms (e.g., sore throat, cough).

This data was just released in CIHI’s OECD Interactive Tool: International Comparisons, which includes more than 50 indicators across 6 dimensions of health. As part of this update, 5 primary care prescription indicators have been added. They measure the use of antibiotics, benzodiazepines (antipsychotics) and blood pressure medications prescribed for patients with diabetes.

“Our data shows that there is overuse and misuse of antibiotics across the country. The unnecessary use of antibiotics can be harmful for vulnerable patients, decreases the effectiveness of antibiotics over time and puts us at larger risk of antibiotic resistance.”

— Kathleen Morris, Vice President, Research and Analysis

“This is a very concerning issue, one that affects not only Canadians but people worldwide. Clearly, Canada has not been the most responsible steward of the weakening global antibiotics supply. At Choosing Wisely Canada, we’ve had the privilege of working with national societies representing more than a dozen clinical specialties — from family medicine to nursing to hospital medicine — to clarify when antibiotics should and should not be used. We hope to have more health care professionals and patients join this effort, but it’s clear from the numbers that there’s a lot of work ahead for all of us.”

— Dr. Wendy Levinson, Choosing Wisely Canada

How do we fare overall?

Canada has a varied performance when it comes to international comparisons. Overall, we perform well on most lifestyle factors and health status. However, improvements can be gained in patient safety and access to care.

Here are some highlights:

  • Males in Canada are 35% less likely to smoke than males in other OECD countries.
  • Adults in other OECD countries are almost twice as likely to die from stroke as adults in Canada.
  • Canadian women are almost twice as likely to experience severe tears during childbirth as women in other OECD countries.
  • 57% of Canadians wait more than a month to see a specialist, compared with 42% of people in other countries.

Drawing comparisons at the international level provides provincial and territorial governments with a broader context for benchmarking and peer learning. It allows decision-makers to understand where they are doing well and where to focus improvements.

International and provincial comparisons are available in the OECD Interactive Tool.

About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides essential information on Canada’s health systems and the health of Canadians.

We provide comparable and actionable data and information that are used to accelerate improvements in health care, health system performance and population health across Canada. Our stakeholders use our broad range of health system databases, measurements and standards, together with our evidence-based reports and analyses, in their decision-making processes. We protect the privacy of Canadians by ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of the health care information we provide.

About Choosing Wisely Canada

Choosing Wisely Canada is a campaign to help clinicians and patients engage in conversations about unnecessary tests and treatments, and make smart choices. Choosing Wisely Canada is led by Canada’s health care professionals, with more than 50 national colleges, societies and associations participating as partners of the campaign. CIHI and Choosing Wisely Canada released a collaborative report earlier this year highlighting unnecessary care in Canada.

Media contact
Olivia Olesinski