Physicians register their frustration with wait times

Canadian physicians are tired of waiting for progress on wait-times. Doctors have given health ministries across the country a poor grade for their collective efforts and predicted the healthcare system would deteriorate over the next five years, according to a survey by the Canadian Medial Association (CMA).

The CMA’s online survey, which drew over 4,000 responses, found that less than 40 per cent of Canadian physicians are satisfied with government’s overall progress on reducing wait-times. Only 39 per cent viewed the current climate as satisfactory (C).

On average, says CMA president Colin McMillan, physicians and medical residents rated efforts made to address wait times as poor (D).

The online consultation garnered responses from a cross-section of the country with the highest percentage of participating physicians coming from Ontario (35 per cent) and Quebec (25 per cent).

Respondents from the five prioritized specialties — cancer, cardiac care, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration — tended to be slightly less negative than other respondents. However, almost half of those surveyed believe adequate investments have not been made to support the five priority areas.

In addition, 48 per cent indicated that prioritization had not relieved pressures on the specialty care system and 55 per cent said they were seeing the emergence of “have” and “have not” disciplines.

On average, respondents rated progress since 2000 — improving the state of health care in Canada — as poor (D).

McMillan says he was surprised, not so much that people were concerned about the wait-list, but that such a high number of family doctors and surgeons — almost 60 per cent — believe the situation is only going to get worse.

“I’ve always felt that a wait-time is just a symptom of not enough resources in the system, particularly not enough doctors, not enough nurses and in some cases just not enough infrastructure,” says McMillan.

He added this is particularly true in emergency rooms and in the X-ray and diagnostic imaging areas.

“I would emphasize that it’s strictly in diagnostic imaging that we don’t have the information,” he says. “Because the governments simply haven’t set benchmarks in those areas and the provinces haven’t put up data on their Web sites which we use to monitor progress.”

Another key finding was that respondents perceived a “balloon” effect in which non-prioritized specialties are suffering at the expense of prioritized specialties.

“Before this all we had were anecdotes,” says McMillan. “This confirms what we thought was happening.”

Essentially, the big issue is that by concentrating on the five selected areas, other areas have been neglected, according to McMillan.

He noted that from his own experience (McMillan is a cardiovascular specialist based in Charlottetown, P.E.I.) and from that of his colleagues, areas that have suffered include children waiting for surgery, mental health and wait-times in emergency rooms.

“What this (survey) does is gives us facts rather than just random stories that we can put in place that buttress the argument.”

As far as next steps, McMillan says the CMA will be present at a conference Health Minister Tony Clement is convening in Toronto on Thursday that will present an update on wait-times.