Canadians with chronic health conditions receive a raw deal. They come off worst among patients in five developed countries.
According to a Health Council of Canada survey released Thursday, Canadians with chronic health conditions have to wait longer to see doctors and end up in emergency rooms more often than their counterparts in the United States, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany.
The report, Why health care renewal matters: Learning from Canadians with chronic health conditions, finds that nearly one-third of adults and young people in Canada — nine million people — have one or more chronic health problems.
Among the chronic health conditions reported, the most common were arthritis (at 16 per cent) and high blood pressure (15 per cent), according to the report.
People were more likely than the average to have two or more chronic health conditions in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. They were less likely than average to have two or more if they lived in Quebec or British Columbia.
The report found Canada ranked last in access to high-quality primary health care.
The council said that 30 per cent of Canadian patients with a chronic health problem had to wait six or more days to see a doctor the last time they were ill and needed medical help. Only 26 per cent could get same- or next-day appointments versus 60 per cent or more of patients surveyed in five of the other six countries studied.
As a result, says the report, patients with chronic conditions often end up in hospital emergency departments, with 45 per cent of those surveyed reporting this has happened to them in the past two years versus 24 to 36 per cent of respondents in five of the six other countries.
And 41 per cent of the conditions patients with chronic health-care problems sought treatment for in emergency rooms could have been treated by a family doctor, finds the report, compared to 20 to 32 per cent of conditions in four of six other countries.
"There is much Canada can learn from other countries about the use of proven practices to improve timely access to a regular source of care," reads the report.
The council recommends that governments and health-care policymakers:
• Invest in proven strategies that increase the quality of care and engage patients in actively managing their own chronic health problems.
• Move toward more of a prevention focus rather than investing primarily in treating the illnesses once they have already occurred.
• Develop and use appropriate information tracking systems and research on chronic health conditions and use the findings to promote health and improve patients' access to high-quality chronic illness care.
"Sustained programs and supportive policies that enable people to reduce these and other risk factors are smart investments in Canada's future," according to the report.
The report, the second in a series on the effectiveness of Canada's health-care system, relied on data from a 2005 Statistics Canada survey of 133,000 adults, a telephone survey and reports from health authorities from other countries.
The Health Council of Canada is an independent council informing Canadians on health-care matters. It is funded by the Canadian government and operates as a non-profit agency.