Canada’s health care systems fare well in some areas compared with other OECD countries, particularly in quality of care. However, there are a few areas where we are falling behind — especially when it comes to patient safety.

New data released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows that Canada’s overall performance aligns with the international average for 32 out of 57 health indicators, but that we are below average for 12 indicators and above average for 13. 

What are Canada’s strengths?

Canada continues to perform better than other developed countries in many areas related to quality of care. Survival rates for breast and colon cancer are among the highest in the world, with 88% of women with breast cancer surviving over 5 years and 67% of Canadians with colon cancer surviving over 5 years.

We have also made improvements in reducing in-hospital deaths due to heart attacks and stroke; across the country, rates of these deaths have declined by more than 20% over the past 5 years. Another highlight is that more seniors in Canada (61%) receive a flu vaccine compared with the average in other OECD countries (45%). 

Areas for improvement

Canada performs below the international average in 4 out of 5 Patient Safety indicators. 

  • Obstetrical trauma rates — or tears during vaginal childbirth — are twice as high as the OECD average, and are not improving. 
  • Rates of avoidable complications after surgery, such as lung clots after hip or knee surgery, are 90% higher than the OECD average. 
  • Rates of foreign objects left behind in patients after surgery increased by 14% across Canada over 5 years. Between 2016 and 2018, a total of 553 objects, such as sponges or surgical instruments, were left in Canadian patients after surgery. Many of our peer countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, cannot report on this measure, which makes comparisons difficult. 


While Canada’s health care systems are often admired, the international comparisons show that there is room for improvement. We are lagging behind OECD countries in areas of patient safety. These are serious issues that are often preventable, and improving our performance in these areas will result in safer care for patients. —  Tracy Johnson, Director, Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues, CIHI
Every patient experience should be safe. We need to continue to work with patients, providers and leaders to prevent these events from happening. The Canadian Patient Safety Institute leads system strategies to ensure safe health care: it is our hope that Canada is eventually moved up to the top quintile of the OECD ranking for patient safety. —  Chris Power, CEO, Canadian Patient Safety Institute
These statistics only show part of the story. Each of these numbers represents a person, a family, a life. Regardless of how we do in comparison to other nations, we must accept that we face a crisis of preventable harm in Canada’s health care system and that we must act together to ensure that every patient is safe. —  Linda Hughes, Co-chair, Patients for Patient Safety Canada

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) results are released every 2 years and serve as a benchmark for Canada’s performance across 6 dimensions of care: health status, non-medical determinants of health, patient safety, quality of care, access to care and prescribing in primary care. The results for over 30 countries are included. 

About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing essential health information to all Canadians.

CIHI works closely with federal, provincial and territorial partners and stakeholders throughout Canada to gather, package and disseminate information to inform policy, management, care and research, leading to better and more equitable health outcomes for all Canadians.

Health information has become one of society’s most valuable public goods. For 25 years, CIHI has set the pace on data privacy, security, accessibility and innovation to improve Canada’s health systems.

CIHI: Better data. Better decisions. Healthier Canadians.

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