Canadians with chronic illness find it tough to get care

The use of electronic health records, telemedicine and e-visits are key ways to provide chronically ill Canadians the care they need, a new report based on a Commonwealth Fund survey recommends. Results from the survey reveal that sicker Canadians struggle to gain access to care.


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The Health Council of Canada on Dec. 12 released the results from the 2011 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey. The bulletin, "How Do Sicker Canadians with Chronic Disease Rate the Health Care System?" compares experiences of sicker Canadians with chronic conditions to those of the general public.

Participants numbered 3,958 Canadians, who were interviewed by telephone between March and June 2011. The Health Council of Canada sponsored a portion of the study along with the Alberta Health Quality Council, Health Quality Ontario, and the Quebec Health and Welfare Commissioner.

[See also: Survey: 72 percent of Americans think healthcare system needs major overhaul]

Canadians with chronic diseases are more likely to be hospitalized, have surgery, use emergency departments and take prescription medication compared to the general public, the report showed. Most of this group is 50 years of age or older, but 34 percent are adults under the age of 50.

Also, Canadians report experiencing considerable barriers to accessing the healthcare they need. Cost is one of the major barriers. Almost a quarter (23 percent) said they skipped a dose of medication or did not fill a prescription due to cost, compared to just 10 percent of the general population. This is a significant number, since 90 percent of sicker Canadians take at least one prescription drug and 54 percent take four or more. In addition, one in eight (12 percent) of respondents have skipped a recommended test of follow up treatment due to cost concerns, compared to just 5 percent of the general population.

The report offered recommendations on how to eliminate cost barriers for prescription drugs and also barriers that prevent patients from following up on recommended tests and treatments. It suggested alternatives to face-to-face visits – such as telemedicine, email and phone consultations – for saving costs on travel time and resources. “To improve coordination of care, electronic medical records can be an important tool and are long overdue in Canada,” the report concluded. It also called for doctors, policymakers and patients to work together to find solutions that increase patient engagement and involvement in their care.

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