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Surgical waitlists in Canada cost patients more than $1 billion in lost time

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Release Date: June 20, 2012

CALGARY, AB—Lengthy waits for surgery cost Canadian patients a combined $1.08 billion in lost time and productivity in 2011, concludes a new report from the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think-tank.

The report calculates the average value of time lost during the work week at $1,144 for each of the estimated 941,321 Canadians waiting for treatment in 2011.

When considering hours outside the work week, including evenings and weekends but excluding eight hours of sleep per night, the estimated cost of waiting jumps to almost $3.29 billion, or about $3,490 per patient.

"Patients waiting for surgery suffer both physically and emotionally, which diminishes their ability to participate fully in their lives both at work and at home," said Nadeem Esmail, Fraser Institute senior fellow and author of The Private Cost of Public Queues.

The report uses data from the Fraser Institute’s annual survey of hospital wait times, which found that Canadians waited 9.5 weeks, on average, from an appointment with a specialist to receiving treatment in 2011, up slightly from 9.3 weeks in 2010. Across all provinces and medical specialties, the report estimates that Canadian patients waited a combined 11.8 million weeks for treatment in 2011.

The report notes the true private cost of waiting for medical care in Canada is likely higher than $1.08 billion in 2011, or $3.29 billion over the same period when hours outside the work week are included. Importantly, neither estimate includes the cost of care provided by family members and any reductions in their productivity due to worry and grief. Non-monetary medical costs such as increased risk of mortality or adverse events that result directly from long delays for treatment are also not included in the estimates. Finally, the estimates consider only waits from specialist to treatment and do not capture the private cost of waiting for either diagnostic scans such as CT or MRI, or for an appointment with a specialist.

"Canadians endure some of the longest waits for medically necessary treatment in the developed world," Esmail said.

"Rationing of health care in Canada not only deprives patients of timely access to medically necessary treatment, it also causes them to lose out on wages, productivity, and enjoyment of life while they wait."



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