February 16, 2017 — A new international survey shows that Canadians continue to report some of the longest wait times for doctors, specialists and emergency department visits compared with citizens in peer countries. However, once they do get medical care, Canadians generally report experiences with their regular providers that are better than the international average.

These and more insights come from How Canada Compares: Results From The Commonwealth Fund’s 2016 International Health Policy Survey of Adults in 11 Countries, released today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Canadians not seeing improvements in timely access to physician care

Despite the majority (93%) of Canadians having a regular doctor or place of care, Canada continues to perform below the international average on 7 out of 8 measures of timely access to medical care. For example,

  • Less than half (43%) of Canadians could get a same- or next-day appointment with their family doctor or at their regular place of care the last time they needed medical attention, compared with top-performing countries like New Zealand (76%) and the Netherlands (77%).
  • Access to after-hours care is also more difficult in Canada than in most other countries, with only 1 in 3 (34%) patients able to receive medical care in the evenings, on weekends or on holidays without going to the emergency department.
  • Canadians visit emergency departments more often than people in other countries, and have the longest reported waits there as well. More than 40% of Canadians said that the last time they visited an emergency department, it was for a condition that could have been treated by their regular providers if they had been available.
  • Canadians also report the longest wait times for specialists, with more than half (56%) waiting longer than 4 weeks to see a specialist, compared with the international average of 36%.

Results more positive for patient-centred care in Canada

Canada fares better on measures examining whether health care is centred on the needs of individual patients, with results for 21 out of 28 measures that were similar to or better than the international average. For example,

  • Canadians report better experiences than the international average when it comes to their regular doctor knowing their medical history, involving them in medical decisions and explaining things in a way that is easy to understand.
  • Almost three-quarters of Canadians (74%) rate the quality of care from their regular providers as very good or excellent, which is significantly higher than the international average.

“While Canadians might think we have the best health care system in the world, international comparisons help to provide important perspective,” says Tracy Johnson, director of Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues at CIHI. “This report highlights significant variations in results, both within Canada and between countries, which provides an opportunity to learn from policies and best practices in higher-performing jurisdictions.”

To accompany the report, CIHI is releasing International Comparisons at CIHI, which highlights and summarizes our work on international health data and knowledge production and focuses on comparing the performance of Canada’s health systems with those in comparable peer countries.

About The Commonwealth Fund

The Commonwealth Fund is a private U.S. foundation that aims to promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable populations, including people with low incomes, those who have no health insurance, racial minorities, young children and elderly adults.

The Commonwealth Fund survey polled adults age 18 and older in 11 developed countries on their views and experiences with the health care system. More than 4,600 Canadians responded to the survey.

Within Canada, funding for an expanded Canadian sample was provided by CIHI, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Commissaire à la santé et au bien-être du Québec and Health Quality Ontario.

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.