No one should have to wait for health care. For our senior loved ones, waiting for Ontario health services can mean the difference between full recovery or not. There is good news, though, for Ontarians.
A Quick Definition of Canada's Wait Times
The Wait Time Alliance (WTA) offers a vague definition of wait times, noting "the initial wait time begins once a physician has made a differential diagnosis."
The Fraser Institute offers a clearer definition by differentiating between two types of wait times in a 2012 report:
- The moment the doctor tells a patient they need to see a specialist as part of the diagnosis process to the moment the patient sees the specialist.
- The moment the patient sees the specialist to the moment the patient receives specialist services.
Canada's wait times have been in the national spotlight since the First Minister's Meeting on the Future of Health Care 2004. As part of the Health Accord 2004, First Ministers pledged to reduce wait times in five priority areas: cancer care, diagnostic imaging, heart care, joint replacement, and sight restoration.
To deliver this pledge, officials established and allocated $5.5 billion to the Wait Times Reduction Fund, agreed to compile provincial wait times data, and enlisted the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) as the reporting body on national wait times.
In 2005, officials approved a national system to measure wait times called Wait Times Benchmarks for four out of the five priority health areas:
- Canada's wait times benchmark for cancer care radiation therapy is 4 weeks.
- Canada's wait times benchmark for heart care (CABG) is 26 weeks.
- Canada's wait times benchmark for knee and hip joint replacement is 26 weeks.
- Canada's wait times benchmark for eye restorative cataract surgery is 16 weeks.
The Wait Time Alliance (WTA) has since independently devised 925 wait time benchmarks.
In 2006, the government and provincial governments set up the Patient Wait Times Guarantee, which at the time was more important to Canadians than lowering taxes (Ipsos 2006).
Where do Canadians stand in 2013? According to the WTA 2013 Report Card, an annual summation of Canada's wait times in relation to national benchmarks, "there have been some improvement in recent years, but the collective goal to improve Canadians' timely access to care has not yet been attained." There is better news for Ontarians.
A Current Look at Ontario's Wait Times
Ontarians have the shortest wait times in 2013, putting us above the national average. In fact, Ontario health care services for cancer, heart, joint replacement, and eye restoration have earned a Grade A since 2008 (WTA Report Cards). British Columbians and Québécois are not far behind.
Canada's wait times grade averages for 2013 are:
- Grade B for hip replacement.
- Grade C for knee replacement.
- Grade A+ for radiation therapy.
- Grade B for cataract surgery.
- Grade A+ for heart care (CABG).
Okay, now what? How do we go about shortening wait times for the other umpteenth health conditions like breast cancer reconstruction and inflammatory bowel disease? More importantly, how do we improve upon the national standards when Canada lags behind other industrialized countries with publicly funded health care systems?
Some say more funding is the answer. Others, like the WTA say an increase in monies will not decrease wait times alone. Instead, structural changes need to be implemented.
For many of us, taking a proactive approach is the answer. We can offer our loved ones personalized health care services like in-home care, hospital support, and live-in care to help alleviate the effects of wait times.