Health Council of Canada releases 2010 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey results

Canadians visiting emergency departments for care, instead of seeing primary health care providers

TORONTO, Novovember 19, 2010 /Canada NewsWire/ - Today, the Health Council of Canada released survey results from the 2010 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey. The bulletin called, How Do Canadians Rate the Health Care System? examines Canadians' insights into the performance of the health care system.

The survey results indicate that although, Canadians' overall view of the health care system has improved over time, they recognize the need for key improvements to the system. Over half of Canadians surveyed feel that fundamental changes are required to make the system work better.

"Canadians are saying that they want to keep Medicare. They believe the quality of medical care is excellent, but are not happy with their ability to access care in a timely and coordinated way. There are gaps that can be fixed in order to improve our current system," said John G. Abbott, CEO, Health Council of Canada. "This message is consistent with the Romanow Commission Report that was released in 2002."

The survey shows that of all the countries surveyed, Canada fares worst when it comes to access to care after hours - anywhere other than the emergency room. In fact, 37% of Canadians say it is very difficult to get care in the evenings, weekends, or holidays without going to the emergency department. Furthermore, in the last two years, almost half (47%) of Canadians who went to an emergency department yet have a regular doctor said they could have been treated by their regular care provider had he or she been available.

"This means that Canadians may be inappropriately using emergency departments because they do not have adequate access to their primary care giver," says Abbott. "…which is overburdening hospitals and has an overall negative impact to health care system in Canada."

Other areas where Canada did not fare well, compared to international counterparts were around timeliness and coordination of care. In terms of timeliness, only 45% of Canadians (well under the international average of 65%) said they were able to get an appointment on the same or next day when sick or in need of medical attention. Canada ranked the worst out of the 11 countries surveyed in this area.

Furthermore, some Canadians feel that their time had been wasted because their care was poorly organized or coordinated. For example, 12% of Canadians said their test results or medical records were not available at their medical appointment.

The survey also points out that in spite of our universal Medicare system some Canadians feel that costs are a barrier to care, particularly when it comes to prescription drugs. One in 10 respondents said they had not filled a prescription or taken medication due to cost.

The survey highlights gaps in our health care system that Canadians feel need to be resolved. Canadians need timely access to both primary care providers and specialists, to avoid overuse of emergency departments. The National Pharmaceuticals Strategy needs to be implemented to ensure that no Canadians are compelled to skip or adjust medication dose due to cost. And there must be wider adoption of electronic medical and health records to improve information sharing between physicians and specialists to ensure accurate and up-to-date test results and medical records are available. The Health Council of Canada believes that Canadians have spoken clearly, with an expectation that their concerns identified in the survey will be addressed.

About the Survey

The 2010 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey reflects the perceptions of a random sample of about 20,000 adults across 11 countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Participants were interviewed by telephone between March and June, 2010. This included 3,309 Canadians. The core study was funded by the Commonwealth Fund. The Health Council of Canada sponsored a portion of this study along with the Ontario Health Quality Council and the Quebec Health and Welfare Commissioner (Commissaire à la santé et au bien-être du Québec).

About the Health Council of Canada

Created by the 2003 First Ministers' Accord on Health Care Renewal, the Health Council of Canada is an independent national agency that reports on the progress of health care renewal in Canada. The Council provides a system-wide perspective on health care reform in Canada, and disseminates information on best practices and innovation across the country. The Councillors are appointed by the participating provincial and territorial governments and the Government of Canada.

To download reports and other Health Council materials, visit