Windsor Star

WHY CANADIANS THINK OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IS SICK.

After-hours care, wait times rated among worst of 10 countries

- TOBI COHEN

A majority of Canadians believe their beloved public health care system needs an overhaul, according to a study released today that highlights serious gaps in access to care and affordable prescripti­on drugs.

The Health Council of Canada report, dubbed How do Canadians rate the health care system, found more than half of those surveyed believe “fundamenta­l changes” are needed to “make the system work bet- ter,” while another 10 per cent think it needs to be “completely rebuilt.”

The study is based on the results of the 2010 Commonweal­th Fund Internatio­nal Health Policy Survey and compares Canadian sentiment to that of residents in 10 other countries.

More than 20,000 adults in Canada, Australia, France, Germany, the Netherland­s, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerlan­d, the United Kingdom and the United States completed the 100-question survey.

While overall confidence was found to be improving and quality of care was rated topnotch, Canada came in dead last for access to primary care after hours.

About 37 per cent of Canadians said the hospital emergency department was really their only option during evenings, weekends and holidays and 47 per cent — the second highest after the U.S. — admitted their ailment could have been looked after by their regular doctor.

“Despite all the funding and attention we pay to health care, Canadians are still not seeing it benefiting them as users,” Health Council CEO John Abbott said.

“Maybe we don’t have the best system in the world ... Yes it’s universal, yes it’s publicly funded, but some other countries have similar systems and they have been able to perform much better than us in some things that are important to patients.”

According to the survey, Canada also came in last for same-day or next-day access to a doctor. Canadians were also the most likely to have to wait four or more weeks to see a specialist, and one in five Canadians — the second highest after Norway — reported long waits for a diagnosis on a condition they were worried about.

Swiss residents were among the least likely to have to wait a long time to see a specialist, get a diagnosis or a same or nextday appointmen­t with a doctor. Britain and the Netherland­s also fared well in terms of ac- cess, the study found.

Abbott blamed “inappropri­ate use of physician offices” more than doctor shortages for access issues, and suggested Canada should make better use of other medical profession­als, such as nurse practition­ers and pharmacist­s.

Abbott also said family doctors also need to better manage their practices by triaging patients, rather than booking them indiscrimi­nately.

Canada is also behind the times when it comes to electronic patient record-keeping and using email, for example, to book appointmen­ts, he said.

That is slowly changing in several jurisdicti­ons. Ontario, for example, hopes to have all physicians on electronic health records by 2015.

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