NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Waiting Your Turn

December 14, 2012

The Fraser Institute has released the results of its survey of waiting times for elective medical treatments in Canada.

  • Specialist physicians surveyed across 12 specialties and 10 Canadian provinces reported an average waiting time of 17.7 weeks between general practitioner referral and the elective treatment.
  • Wait times for referral by general practitioner and consultation with a specialist fell to 8.5 weeks from 9.5 weeks one year ago.
  • There was an estimated 870,462 people waiting for procedures across all 10 provinces.
  • Assuming each person waits to have only one procedure done, that means 2.5 percent of Canadians were waiting for treatment.
  • However, the report shows 10.3 percent of patients were on the waiting list because they chose to wait.

It should also be noted that there is substantial variation in wait times between provinces and the different specialties.

  • Ontario, for example, report an average wait time of 14.9 weeks.
  • However, New Brunswick reports an average of 35.1 weeks.
  • As far as specialties, patients report the longest wait time between referral and orthopedic surgery, at 39.6 weeks.
  • But those waiting for oncology treatment wait only about 4.1 weeks.

While the report does show that wait times are decreasing overall for Canadians, it still highlights that wait times are at a historic level. Many physicians agree that the wait times go far beyond what would be considered reasonable.

From an economic point of view, these wait times represent a large loss of economic output.

  • The cost of waiting for treatments such as total joint replacement, cataract surgery, coronary artery bypass and MRI scans was an estimated $14.8 billion in 2007.
  • In 2010, the cost of waiting per patient was an additional $1,144.
  • As a result of dealing with long wait lines, 0.9 percent of patients opted to receive treatments in another country.

Source: Bacchus Barua and Nadeem Esmail, "Waiting Your Turn," Fraser Institute, December 2012.


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