Fraser Forum

B.C.’s health-care wait times only getting longer

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B.C.’s health-care wait times only getting longer

A recent survey on primary care in British Columbia found that one-in-four residents don’t have a regular family doctor and that, even among those that do, many struggle getting timely care. With a total median wait of 25.8 weeks for surgical care, the part of this wait for treatment after seeing a specialist in B.C. is beyond what’s considered medically reasonable by doctors.

Canadians lucky enough to have a family doctor typically endure two distinct waits for medical treatment. First, they wait to see a specialist after referral from a family doctor. Second, they wait for treatment after consultation with a specialist. Using a study with the latest available data, we can break down B.C.’s waits and see that in 1993 residents waited 3.3 weeks to see a specialist and 7.1 weeks for treatment. Last year, the wait to see a specialist was more than three-and-a-half times longer at 12.4 weeks, while the wait for treatment nearly doubled to 13.4 weeks.

In other words, total wait times in B.C. more than doubled from 10.4 weeks in 1993 to 25.8 weeks in 2022. In addition to these waits, the study also found that there was an estimated backlog of nearly 188,000 procedures for which patients were waiting.

But what does this mean for patients?

It's well understood that long waits for care can have serious consequences, ranging from prolonged suffering to the worsening of potential health outcomes after receiving treatment. In fact, the impact of delays highlights the importance of identifying waits for specific treatments (after seeing a specialist).

Unfortunately, these delays differ significantly depending on the specialty. For example, the expected wait for orthopedic treatment, which includes hip replacements and spinal surgeries, is 26.9 weeks while British Columbians seeking treatment from a gynecologist could expect a wait of 11.9 weeks.

While important to identify the length of these waits, it’s also crucial that we determine whether or not they’re beyond what’s considered appropriate by doctors. Thankfully the study also collected data on what specialists regarded as a reasonable wait time.

In B.C., the reasonable wait for treatment after seeing a specialist in 2022 (for all 12 specialties) was 9.1 weeks, nearly a month shorter than the median wait for care in the province. For gynecological treatment, after seeing a specialist, patients were waiting nearly two weeks beyond the 10-week wait considered medically reasonable by doctors. Orthopedic patients waited 12.2 weeks longer than the 14.7 weeks considered appropriate by doctors. Overall, in 11 out of 12 specialties, wait times exceeded what doctors considered reasonable.

The data are clear; wait lists in B.C. have grown over the past three decades, resulting in large backlogs and patients waiting beyond what’s considered reasonable by doctors. Most Canadians experience poor access to health care—British Columbians are clearly no exception.

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