FACT CHECK: Bernie Sanders Video Downplays Health Care Wait Times In Canada
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted a video Wednesday claiming that health care wait times in Canada aren’t a “major problem.”
“Most people I know do get seen in a timely fashion,” said a Canadian patient interviewed for the video.
Whether judging by physician benchmarks or the relative performance of other countries, Canada faces chronically long health care wait times.
Sanders, who recently introduced a “Medicare for All” bill in Congress, toured Canada in late October to highlight the country’s single payer health care system.
The video tweeted by Sanders features brief snippets of his meetings with Canadian hospital executives, doctors and patients who repeatedly downplay the amount of time Canadians spend waiting for doctor appointments and hospital visits.
“Overall, I don’t think we have a wait time crisis at all for important care or necessary care, and when people get sick they get treated right away,” Dr. David Urbach, chief surgeon at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, claimed in the video.
Long wait times are well documented in Canada, however, and surveys show the country lagging behind a number of industrialized nations.
“Canadians continue to report longer wait times for doctors, specialists and emergency department visits than their peers in other countries,” reads a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).
For example, the report found that only 43 percent of Canadians were able to schedule same- or next-day appointments with a doctor (the study average was 57 percent).
Difficulty in scheduling timely visits has led many Canadians to resort to the emergency room for care. In fact, 41 percent of those surveyed by CIHI had visited an emergency room in the last two years.
The high volume of emergency room visits has strained hospitals, resulting in an average wait time of 4.4 hours.
“I’ve been to the emergency room, and yes I’ve had to wait a couple hours,” said Ing Wong-Ward, a patient in the video. “But I also know that for people who are really in danger, they are seen immediately.”
Canadian emergency rooms do prioritize patients who need urgent care – patients undergoing cardiac arrest will be seen before patients with allergies, for example. But Canadians in critical condition are generally not seen by doctors right away.
Patients requiring resuscitation should be seen in under five minutes according to ER guidelines, yet CIHI reports a median wait time of 11 minutes.
For emergent conditions – those that potentially threaten life or limb – patients are to be seen in under 15 minutes. The median wait time was 54 minutes. Even patients facing moderate trauma had a median wait time of 79 minutes, reports CIHI.
For less urgent care, CIHI found more favorable results. In a March study, it reported that three out of four Canadian patients received priority treatments like radiation therapy, hip fracture repair and cataract surgery within government-set benchmarks.
And for certain life-saving surgeries, patients are generally seen quickly. According to the Frasier Institute, the median wait time for cardiac bypass surgery in Canada was less than one day for critical cases.
Overall, however, the country continues to face long wait times everywhere from the hospital to the doctor’s office.
CIHI reports that 56 percent of Canadians waited four weeks or longer to see a specialist (compared to 24 percent in the U.S.), and 18 percent of Canadians waited at least four months for elective procedures like hip and knee replacement surgery (only three percent of Americans waited this long).
“We do have challenges with respect to what we call elective or non-urgent procedures and specialty appointments,” Danielle Martin, vice-president of the Women’s College Hospital, concedes in the video. “And that’s something we’re working on.”
Sanders did not respond to a request for comment.
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