Reducing Wait Times for Health Care: What Canada Can Learn from Theory and International Experience

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Public opinion polls in recent years show that Canadians are generally satisfied with their government-funded health care system. If there is any consistent source of dissatisfaction with the “single-payer” system, it is with the amount of time people wait to receive medical care. Requiring patients to queue for medical services presumably saves the government money, at least in the short-run, by reducing expenditures on hospitals and doctors. However, waiting lists impose monetary and non-monetary costs on those waiting for health care. The larger these costs, the more likely it is that waiting lists have net overall costs for Canadian society. What can and should be done to reduce or eliminate wait times for health care?

Reducing Wait Times for Health Care: What Canada Can Learn from Theory and International Experience assesses various policy-related issues associated with waiting lists for health care services in Canada. First, Nadeem Esmail attempts to define what “waiting” for health care means and considers the complexities involved in comparing wait times from one country to another. In chapter 3, Dr. Brian Day examines the substantial costs that waiting for health care impose on Canadians. David Henderson then considers various policy approaches for reducing wait times in Canada, while in chapter 5, Steven Globerman addresses the labour market consequences of wait times and the broader impacts of wait times for Canada’s economic growth. Finally, in chapter 6 of this volume, Nadeem Esmail reviews the international experience with wait times and reductions in wait times in an effort to identify policies that might work to improve the timeliness of access to health care in Canada.

A key point for Canadian policymakers emerges from the chapters in this book: maintaining status quo health care policies is unlikely to improve the timeliness of the provision of health care services in Canada or improve the efficiency of the government-funded system.

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