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Chronic care

Canadians wait longest for chronic care attention

TORONTO – Canadians with chronic illnesses wait longer to see medical specialists than counterparts in seven other developed countries, a new international survey suggests.

Only 40 percent of Canadians with chronic illnesses who took part in the survey reported waiting less than four weeks to see a specialist. And 42 percent said they had to wait more than two months – substantially longer than counterparts in the seven other countries.

The findings are part of the 2008 survey of the healthcare experiences of the chronically ill compiled by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation focused on improving healthcare delivery. The survey was published in the journal Health Affairs.

Canadians with chronic illnesses also reported higher rates of problems accessing same-day care.

Only 26 percent said they could get a same-day appointment to see a doctor, putting Canada at the bottom of the heap with Americans when it came to same-day access to care. In contrast, 60 percent of Dutch respondents and 54 percent of New Zealanders said they could get same-day medical appointments.

Canadian respondents seemed to turn to hospital emergency departments to fill the care gap, with 23 percent saying they visited an emergency room to get help for a problem that could have been treated by a family doctor if one were available. Only 6 percent of German and Dutch respondents said they sought care from an emergency department that they could have received from a family doctor.

Canadians surveyed also reported one of the highest rates of medical errors; 29 percent said they had experienced a medical, medication or lab error.

The same portion of Australians reported experiencing a medical error. Only American respondents reported a higher medical error rate; 34 percent said they’d been the subject of a medical error.

Despite the negatives, only 16 percent of the Canadian respondents said the country’s healthcare system should be completely rebuilt. Among the eight countries, only Dutch and British respondents were less likely to think their entire systems needed to be overhauled.

The highest level of dissatisfaction with the status quo was in the United States, where 33 percent of Americans surveyed said their system needed to be completely rebuilt.

The survey questioned 7,500 chronically ill adults in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States about their healthcare experiences. They were interviewed by telephone between March and May of 2008.

The number of people interviewed per country ranged from roughly 500 in New Zealand to nearly 2,000 in Canada. Respondents were adults 18 years and older who had been diagnosed with at least one of the following chronic conditions: hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, lung problems, cancer or depression.