The Canadian Institute for Health Information is a not-for-profit organization that is funded by federal, provincial and territorial governments to provide essential information on Canada’s health system. Their Wait Times in Canada— A Summary, 2012 says that Canada is achieving about 80 per cent of the set benchmarks for this year. Furthermore, the data from the past three years has not shown any big downfalls or improvements in the data collected.
Ensuring that Canadians have access to the care they need when they need it was identified as a top priority by first ministers in 2004.
The 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care identified strategic investments toward achieving reductions in wait times for five priority clinical areas: cancer, heart, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration.
As part of the plan, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) was asked to report on progress in wait times across jurisdictions. The strategic investments undertaken by provincial governments have led to improvements in measuring and reporting wait times such that progress can now be tracked for five out of eight priority procedures. While reporting on comparable urgency levels for cardiac surgery remains a challenge, more provinces are moving toward consistent reporting for diagnostic imaging. After seven years of provincial reporting in priority areas, are waits improving for Canadians?
A more comprehensive picture of wait times in Canada shows that about 80% of patients received priority procedures within benchmarks for the second year in a row. While ideally all patients would receive treatment within these time frames, this may not by achievable or practical. For the purposes of this summary, a threshold of 90% completion is used to assess progress. Outside of the priority area of radiation therapy, few provinces have attained or maintained the threshold of 90%. While the largest gains in wait time reductions were observed in the first years following the start of the 10-Year Plan, in more recent years the magnitude of the changes has decreased for the majority of procedures. In fact, in some instances, the number of Canadians receiving care within benchmarks has declined.
Regarding radiation treatment, this report indicates that nine out of 10 provinces achieved the threshold of 90% for radiation treatments. Although Nova Scotia was the only province unable to attain 90%, the proportion of patients receiving care in that province within the benchmark has increased by 21% from 2009. Most provinces showed consistency in maintaining previous gains for radiation therapy.
The Report concludes that numerous steps have been taken to better measure and report wait times in Canada. With continuous provincial collaboration, a more comprehensive picture of how long Canadians wait for care is now available. Estimates indicate that about 80% of patients received priority procedures within clinically recommended time frames, yet few improvements were observed compared with previous years. Outside of radiation therapy, few provinces have attained or maintained the 90% threshold. While more provinces are moving toward better reporting of diagnostic imaging information, efforts should be made to increase comparability of cardiac urgency levels.