How long does it take to get a doctor’s appointment in Canada?

When it comes to the quality and cost of healthcare, Canada is one of the best-rated countries in the world. It has the 14th best healthcare in 2020 according to  Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index. Despite its quality, healthcare is also very affordable. However, Canadians have one complaint about their healthcare system, and that’s the wait time. So, how long does it take to get a doctor’s appointment in Canada?

Canada has one of the longest wait times among the most developed countries. It takes about 4 hours to see a doctor at the emergency department, as much as 7 days for over half of the population to see a family doctor and even more time between referral to specialist, consultation and treatment.

However, these long wait times aren’t without reason. It’s largely due to a shortage of doctors and varies across provinces. This article examines how long it’ll take to access medical services in Canada.

How Long is the Wait Time in Canada?

Waiting to see a doctor is a common phenomenon in Canada. It’s one of the few criticisms of its excellent healthcare system. Over the years, the wait times have become longer, and it’s more or less part and parcel of the healthcare system now. If you’re planning to visit a hospital, you might have to wait. But your wait time differs based on who you’re going to see.

1.   Doctors Appointment

This is the easiest hospital appointment to get in Canada, but even that, you are more likely going to wait. Only 43% of Canadians can book an appointment for the same or next day with their regular doctor. As a result, 20% have to wait for as many as seven days before they finally get to see a doctor. Fortunately, there are family doctors that you can easily go to. Statistics show that 93% of Canadians have a go-to doctor when feeling sick.

2.   Emergency Department

The idea of an emergency appointment is to get a doctor as soon as you get to the hospital. But it’s not exactly so in Canada. It usually takes about 4 hours on average to see a doctor in the emergency department. The wait time in the emergency department might beg how many emergency cases Canadian hospitals receive annually. But the long wait time isn’t exactly due to a large number of cases. Instead, it happens because many people who can’t get an appointment with their family doctor end up coming to the emergency department. In 2017, over 40% of Canadians claimed that the last time they were in an emergency, it was for something that the family doctor could have treated had the doctor been available.

3.   Specialists

The longest wait time is for seeing specialists. Around 56% of Canadians claimed that it took them more than four weeks before seeing a specialist doctor in 2017. On the other hand, the international average for a four-week long wait time is 36%. This shows that Canadians have one of the longest wait times for seeing a specialist.

This waiting time refers to how long Canadians have to wait between being referred by a General Practitioner and when they finally get to see the specialist doctor for consultation. The median waiting time was 10.2 weeks in 2017 but decreased to 8.7 weeks in 2018.

4.   Waiting Time Between Referral and Treatment

The longest wait time for Canadians is the period between meeting a general practitioner and getting treatment from the specialist. According to a 2018 survey by Fraser Institute titled Waiting Your Turn, specialist doctors reported 19.8 weeks as the median waiting time between a GP referral and receipt of treatment by the patient. This might seem like a lot, but it was even much longer in 2017 when the waiting time was 21.3 weeks.

However, while the average waiting time between referral to consultation dropped, consultation and treatment increased. The average waiting time was 11 weeks in 2018, an increase from the 10.9 weeks in 2017. Generally, the wait time differs based on specialties too. For example, patients in need of orthopedic treatment had to wait for the longest. It took a whole 39 weeks between the GP referral and specialist treatment. On the other hand, medical oncology specialists only report 3.8 weeks waiting time between referral and treatment.

Waiting Time Across Provinces

How long you have to wait before meeting a doctor or getting treatment will also depend largely on the province you find yourself. According to the survey, Saskatchewan had the shortest wait time between referral and treatment at 15.4 weeks, but in New Brunswick, it was as long as 45.1 weeks. Saskatchewan also has the shortest referral to consultation waiting time at 6.3 weeks, while New Brunswick’s was 28.3 weeks. Ontario had the shortest time of specialist consultation to treatment waiting time at 8.3 weeks, while Manitoba had 19.7 weeks.

Reason for the Long Wait Time

The long waiting time to access health services in Canada is largely due to various reasons. They include.

1.   Shortage of Doctors

The primary reason for the long wait times in the country is the shortage of medical personnel in various segments. According to a study, there was a shortage of 478 emergency physicians in 2017, projected to reach 1071 by 2020. However, it’s not only emergency physicians that are in short supply. Family doctors are in limited supply as well. The shortage of family doctors leads to longer wait times in emergency units. This is because patients who can’t see their family doctors opt to go to emergency units instead.

2.   Communications Issues

Another major issue is that of communications within the healthcare system. Studies show that communication issues between hospital stakeholders might be contributing greatly to the wait times, especially for emergency departments. The communications issues are largely due to the dated technology still in use in most hospitals.

In Conclusion

Despite the many good qualities of the Canadian healthcare system, wait time is a serious issue. Canadian spend hours in the ER and sometimes months between referral and treatment.

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