Canadians less satisfied in their access to health care than Americans: poll

Canadians less satisfied in their access to health care than Americans: poll

The findings of a new Angus Reid Institute cross-border survey suggest Canadians are significantly less satisfied with their access to health care than their American neighbours.

15% of Canadians satisfied with access to care, while 29% of Americans satisfied with access, poll finds

Terence Graham has been waiting anxiously for weeks to receive urgent CT scan results after experiencing "noticeable swelling" in the back of his head that gave him "blinding headaches." 

The 55-year-old Canadian Forces veteran, who lives in Laird, Ont., about 40 kilometres southeast of Sault Ste. Marie, said he was checked out at the local emergency department on July 27. Not only did it take nearly three weeks to get the scan, he says he's since been unable to get the results.

The findings of a new Angus Reid Institute poll conducted in Canada and the U.S. in August suggest Canadians are significantly less satisfied with their access to health care than their American neighbours.

"It's a sad state of affairs if that's the common belief that we have as Canadians now," he said. "That's the belief that I have right now." 

Manitoba’s busiest emergency department was forced to close half of its beds this weekend due to a lack of nurses. It’s just one example of how hospitals across the country continue to struggle.

According to the Angus Reid Institute, 29 per cent of adults have experienced "chronic difficulty" in accessing health care, which represents the equivalent of nine million Canadians.

A further 31 per cent, the equivalent of 9.7 million Canadians, said they had experienced some challenges, even though nearly all (98 per cent) of this group reported having a family doctor.

The situation was similar in almost every region of Canada, in both urban and rural areas.

The type of medical care people had most difficulty accessing included specialist appointments (58 per cent overall), emergency care (54 per cent), surgical procedures (51 per cent), non-emergency treatment (44 per cent) and diagnostic tests (41 per cent). 

British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the four Atlantic provinces, combined, all had more than 60 per cent of respondents saying they faced challenges seeking the care they needed. The Angus Reid Institute noted British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces were the two regions of Canada where more than one-third of people had chronically difficult experiences accessing health care. 

"Canadians have become so used to the narrative that you won't be turned away," said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute. But, she said, "they are being turned away or put on hold indefinitely" because of shortages and the system not functioning properly.

When it comes to people satisfied with their access to care, the research found 15 per cent, or 4.7 million Canadians, have comfortable access; Manitoba had the highest at 18 per cent, while B.C. had the lowest at 10 per cent.

More than half of respondents nationwide with comfortable access to surgical care said their health improved, while 34 per cent of the people who faced difficulty said their condition worsened.

On average, nearly a quarter of people in the 10 provinces said they didn't require access to health care in the previous six months.

Even if people didn't have struggles with the health-care system, they may know someone who did; just over half of the people who took part in the poll said they had family or friends who endured serious (18 per cent) or minor (33 per cent) consequences because they lacked adequate care. 

A Vancouver man has placed an ad offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who can help him find a family doctor. Gary Shuster has a rare metabolic disorder that requires consistent monitoring by a physician.

Kurl said there is a perception that access to health care in Canada is better than in the U.S., but that gets "turned on its ear" when you actually speak to Americans. 

U.S. citizens have a much more favourable opinion of their own health care system, with almost double the number of Americans surveyed (29 per cent) saying they are comfortable with the access they have. 

There were also far fewer U.S. respondents (13 per cent) who said they have chronic difficulty seeking medical care. 

Faced with the possibility of needing emergency care, 70 per cent of Americans felt confident they would get it in a timely fashion compared to just 37 per cent of Canadians. 

The Angus Reid Institute conducted two online surveys in August, receiving responses from 2,279 Canadians between Aug. 8-10, and 1,209 Americans between Aug. 16-17. The Canadian findings had a margin of error of +/- 2.0 per cent, 19 times out of 20, while the U.S. results had a margin of error of +/- 3.0 per cent. 

Health-care workers are calling attention to a crisis unfolding in Canadian emergency rooms. Staff shortages and a lack of hospital beds are causing long waits, shortened operating hours and even temporary ER closures across the country. Meanwhile, workers say more patients are coming in for problems neglected during the pandemic. Patients' stories are dramatic. Two weeks ago in Red Deer, Alta., a woman with abdominal pain said she waited six hours to get an ultrasound, and was told to find her own way to another hospital to have her appendix removed. In May and June in St. John's, the wife of a man with Alzheimer's says he waited 20 nights in emergency before getting a hospital bed. Today, a conversation with a veteran emergency physician about the new and long-standing factors stretching Canadian ERs to the limit. Dr. Brian Goldman is the host of CBC's White Coat Black Art and the author of The Power of Teamwork.

Nick Logan is a senior writer with CBCNews.ca based in Vancouver. He has worked as a multi-platform reporter and producer for more than a decade, with a particular focus on international news. You can reach out to him at nick.logan@cbc.ca.

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