How bad are those terrible waiting lists in Canada? Well if you hang with the loonies at Fraser and PRI they average 10 months for a typical pregnancy and care for everyone else is delivered only by morticians. On the other hand, StatCanada (the official government body, and this one I believe is an independent bunch of civil servants rather than the US variety who’s reports are re-written by 23 yr old Republican staffers) is out with some real data.
What’s the conclusion? Canadians have to wait a little bit, and they’re pissed off, but only a little bit
Results for 2005 indicate that waiting for care remains the number one barrier for those having difficulties accessing care. Median waiting times for all specialized services have remained relatively stable between 2003 and 2005 at 3 to 4 weeks, depending on the type of care. There were some differences noted in selected provinces. Most individuals continue to report that they received care within 3 months.
Similarly, patients’ views about waiting for care have remained fairly stable between 2003 and 2005. While 70 to 80 percent indicated that their waiting time was acceptable – there continues to be a proportion of Canadians who feel they are waiting an unacceptably long time for care.
And how bad did that wait make them feel? Well most didn’t seem to worry at all but some were pissed off.
The proportion of patients who felt that their waiting time was unacceptable was highest among those who waited for specialist visits (29%) and diagnostic tests (21%) and lowest among those who waited for non-emergency surgery (16%) (Chart 2 ; Table 9) even though individuals are more likely to wait longer (i.e. > 3 months) for non-emergency surgical care compared with other specialized services (Table 7).
And for some the wait involved real inconvenience and pain. But that was less than 20%.
Approximately 18% of individuals who visited a specialist indicated that waiting for the visit affected their life compared with 11% and 12% for non-emergency surgery and diagnostic tests respectively. (Table 10)
And most of that was stress related rather than actual pain, although there was some of that too with about half experiencing pain. (These are proportions of those who experienced adverse effects from waiting)
Most of those who were affected reported that they experienced worry, stress and anxiety during the waiting period: ranging from 49% among those whose lives were affected by waiting for non-emergency surgery to 71% among those affected by waiting for a diagnostic test. (Table 11) Between 38% and 51% of individuals waiting for specialist services experienced pain and close to 36% of those who were affected by waiting for non-emergency surgery indicated that they experienced difficulties with activities of daily living. Approximately 28% of those who were affected by waiting for a diagnostic test indicated that it resulted in worry, stress and anxiety for their friends and family.
Even if every single American never had to wait for any care, there is considerable the impact because of our system on the financial health of poorer Americans, and there is also consequent impact on those poorer Americans’ access to care services. Below is a chart from the 2004 Health Affairs report which shows that on a raft of issues, like not getting care from a doctor, skipping recommended care, and not filing prescriptions, the direct cost of care here impacts people just as much, if not more so. And of course some substantial number of Americans (whichever side of that argument you believe) are going bankrupt because of it.
Yes there are problems with the Canadian system. Yes there’s room for honest debate about it.
But take the veil of ignorance test John Tierney uses in his columns in the NY Times. If you didn’t know you were going to be born or become rich, which system would you rather be in given the realistic chance that you might end up poor? The one that will get to you if you’re prepared to wait a few months, or the one that you won’t ever get to because you can’t afford to, and that might bankrupt you if you really need it? I bet you nearly half Americans would change places if they knew.