Exploring the Challenges of Canada’s Health System

Exploring the Challenges of Canada’s Health System

Canadian healthcare services are administered and planned decentralizedly among provinces and territories, which has both advantages and drawbacks.

One advantage of Canada’s health system is providing universal coverage to its citizens, but on the downside it has major challenges including long wait times and expensive healthcare costs.

Long wait times

Canadian patients waited longer for medical treatment this year than ever before, according to a new report from the Fraser Institute. On average, Canadians waited 25.6 weeks between being referred by their GP and receiving specialist care – up from 20.3 weeks reported in 2021 and almost double the 9.3 week figure seen when this think tank first measured this figure in 1993.

But even more troubling are the gaps emerging in Canada’s health-care system as we struggle to accommodate for an aging baby boomer population. When these individuals reach 65 years old, they will comprise one fifth of its total population and account for half of provincial health-care funding even though they represent only 25 per cent of overall need.

As long wait times and lack of resources continue to place additional stress on the system, experts say the solution lies not with more money but more efficient use of what already exists. They suggest more emphasis on preventive care as well as better utilization of mobile services that provide early diagnosis of conditions like diabetes or asthma in communities where needed assistance is provided by health promotion or early diagnosis of conditions like these.

Doctor and researcher Ewan Affleck contends that Canada’s pandemic exposed flaws in its healthcare system. With each province having control of its own healthcare systems and service models differing drastically across provinces, data cannot be shared effectively between healthcare systems. He proposes implementing a digital system focused on patient needs to enhance data sharing. He believes it would also make care more accountable to patients.

High costs

Even though Canada provides universal healthcare, its system still suffers from many of the same challenges faced by government-run entities. Resources can easily be allocated for political gain rather than meeting explicit health needs; and budget constraints reduce care provided. If you are interested to check out Pine Integrated Health Centre which is located in Canada, you can go to the link.

Canada ranks among the highest per-capita healthcare spending levels in the OECD and is projected to sustain high healthcare expenditures as a percentage of GDP for an indefinite period, as a result of both an aging population and growing cost pressures within its healthcare system.

The healthcare system in Canada is funded largely through federal, provincial, and territorial taxes – mostly hospital and medical service fees as well as drug subsidies (Marchildon 2013:xiii). Private insurance plans offered through employers or on an individual basis provide supplementary benefits like prescription drugs outside hospitals; dental and vision care coverage as well as equipment (e.g. wheelchairs/protheses).

An increasing number of patients require hospital admission due to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, often costly treatments with long wait times for inpatient beds. According to an Ipsos survey conducted among Canadians, decreasing healthcare wait times was their top priority.

The healthcare system is currently experiencing changes to meet these challenges and the expectations of its consumers, such as providing provinces and territories with greater financial flexibility to allow them to increase healthcare services for their respective populations. But as with any expansion effort, making sure those dollars are spent wisely is key.

Lack of information

Patients and doctors across Canada are grappling with long wait times, closed emergency departments and a dearth of long-term care options. Furthermore, many frontline workers have become exhausted by COVID-19’s pandemic and are opting out, while others struggle with meeting ever increasing work demands.

Canada, a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ranks among the highest spenders on healthcare spending; yet spending so much of one’s economy doesn’t automatically equate to an overly-expensive system – it depends on how effectively that money spent provides value in return.

Canada’s health-care system lacks clear evidence to indicate that spending a higher proportion of national income yields better health outcomes; other industrialized nations with universal healthcare spend significantly less while still delivering superior patient outcomes.

Problems in Canadian health-care arise partly from its design itself. Canada is a federation, meaning provinces and territories govern their own insurance plans while federal authorities set broad national guidelines through the Canada Health Act.

As such, no single federal authority oversees America’s healthcare system and different regions experience greatly differing levels of performance.

As well, our system faces some serious demographic and financial challenges, including an aging population and budget constraints. Therefore, provincial and territorial governments must lead in reallocating resources and creating infrastructure to accommodate an ageing population with limited public funds. In response to this call from CMA Premiers’ Conference this week to meet and discuss these challenges and find real solutions.

Lack of transparency

As healthcare costs rise and value-based care becomes a greater focus, patient satisfaction, quality of care and transparency have become key concerns. Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions there is little transparent and standardised data available that allows adequate evaluation and meaningful change initiatives to take place.

Uncertainty regarding medical costs has resulted in an increase in surprise medical bills, which arise when patients receive care from providers outside their insurance network but were unaware would charge them. Unexpected bills can put strain on budgets while undermining trust in the system.

Canadians face another problem related to high drug costs – they’re the only country without a national drug plan and their ever-rising prices have become an enormous strain on both patients and health systems.

At present, transparency around wait times and treatment outcomes remains limited. Wait time targets may not be publicly accessible and data on wait times may differ between jurisdictions – hindering efforts to monitor progress and recognize trends over time.

Lack of transparency has made it more challenging to hold government accountable for its performance, for example when budgets allocated for health care remain unclear and citizens and elected officials cannot easily analyze current practices or suggest reforms.

Although healthcare industries have made progress in terms of improving wait times, they continue to face significant hurdles. To move forward effectively, Canada must rebuild trust among Canadians by addressing problems identified above and increasing transparency – this will allow citizens to stay informed and engaged with building sustainable healthcare systems.

Lack of coordination

Canada’s health care system is complex. Rather, it consists of services provided by various provincial government departments including health, environment, finance and justice; independent hospitals, clinics, homecare providers and insurers as well as federal bodies such as Public Health Agency of Canada for emergency preparedness and response as well as infectious disease control prevention as well as health promotion activities.

Provinces and territories administer health programs and offer additional coverage for drugs prescribed outside hospitals, ambulance costs and vision, hearing, dental and vision therapy not covered by Medicare. Most Canadians rely on private health insurance to cover these expenses; federal healthcare services may be provided to RCMP members, military members, inmates of federal prisons and some civilians using private plans; however most civilians rely on provincial systems instead.

Provinces develop health care programs to comply with the Canada Health Act’s general guidelines and provide services which fulfill primary health care duties as first point-of-contact for their populations, and refer them when necessary to more specialized treatment facilities. This may include primary health care services that serve as first point-of-contact healthcare to a greater number of people as well as providing referrals when more specialized treatment services may be necessary.

Recent years have witnessed quality of care decline as costs rise, prompting those working in the field to suggest that accountability models change so those serving patients are rewarded based on outcomes rather than hours worked; this requires aligning professional, patient and system goals while making sure everyone pulls their weight – until these changes take place, Canada’s healthcare system may struggle to improve; something highlighted during the pandemic which saw emergency rooms close and patients wait longer for everything from long-term care services to mental health supports.



Jeremy Lawson