Ontarians pay high price for health-care waits

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Appeared in the Hamilton Spectator, November 18, 2023
Ontarians pay high price for health-care waits

Despite having the shortest total wait time in the country in 2022, more than 11,000 patients in Ontario died on surgical and diagnostic waiting lists last fiscal year. And with an estimated 107,000 patients waiting longer than the clinically recommended maximum for their surgery, the consequences of waiting will continue to fall squarely on Ontarians.

Unfortunately, the consequences of delays, even for those who successfully make it off Ontario’s waiting lists, can be dire.

According to a recent study, in 2022 patients in Ontario could expect to wait a median of 20.3 weeks for medically necessary care, across 12 different medical specialties. When broken down, this number actually represents two separate waiting periods—the wait to first see a specialist (10.1 weeks in Ontario) followed by the wait to receive treatment (10.2 weeks).

By comparison, in 1993, the earliest year of available data, Ontarians waited a median of 9.1 weeks in total for surgery—or less than half what they’re waiting now.

Is this too long? Doctors seem to think so. They consider 6.1 weeks to be a reasonable wait for surgery after seeing a specialist in Ontario—one month longer than the wait in 2022 (again, 10.2 weeks).

And what are the consequences of these delays?

While the physical and psychological impacts of long waits for medically required care are generally well known, patients also incur private financial impacts when the ability to work and earn a wage is compromised. One way we can measure this is by putting a dollar value on the time lost among those who experience significant difficulty in their daily lives while waiting for surgery.

Take last year’s 19.9-week provincial wait for orthopedic surgery after seeing a specialist. Not only was this two months longer than what’s considered reasonable by doctors, the wait cost some Ontarian patients waiting for treatment close to $120 million in lost wages.

Or consider the more than $150 million in lost wages from last year’s 19.2-week wait for ophthalmology procedures to treat things such as cataracts and glaucoma (a wait that was twice as long as what was considered reasonable).

Overall, long waits for surgery in Ontario cost patients $708 million in 2022.

While Ontario had a relatively short wait compared to other provinces, this “short wait” by Canadian standards still cost patients dearly. Until provinces and the federal government introduce meaningful reform, we’re unlikely to see any relief from the delays for medically necessary care.

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