Almost 30% of Canadians who sought care from a medical specialist in 2003 had to wait for what they considered an unacceptably long time, Statistics Canada reports.
The median waiting time for these people was 8.6 weeks, says the Canadian government agency in a report released Wednesday.
When asked how the waiting had affected their lives, respondents reported worry, stress and anxiety (72%), pain (45%), problems with daily living (25%) and deterioration of overall health (20%).
The survey results help to explain why waiting lists were deemed a top priority in the national election, and why Prime Minister Paul Martin focused on a promise to shorten them.
Among people who waited for nonemergency surgery, 17% considered their waiting times unacceptable. For those who sought diagnostic tests, 20% said they had to wait too long.
One in four who required immediate care for a minor health problem experienced difficulties, mainly long in-office waits and difficulty getting an appointment.
The survey was based on a sample of 32,005 Canadians ages 15 and older who were interviewed throughout 2003.
In the U.S., in comparison, the average time it takes to schedule a physician appointment exceeds 30 days in some metropolitan markets and can extend to as much as 50 days, according to a recently released study by the Irving, Texas-based consulting firm Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, which recruits employees for hospitals and doctors' offices.
Patients in Boston reported waits of more than a month on average to see medical specialists, the longest in a survey of 15 major cities. (See "Boston patients have long waits for specialists," [purchase required].)
The shortest wait -- eight to 15 days -- was in Washington, D.C., according to a survey in which researchers posed as new patients and called of 1,062 specialists requesting appointments for nonurgent problems. New patients in Boston wait an average of 37 days to see a cardiologist, 45 days to see an OB/GYN and 50 days to see a dermatologist, the survey found.
Nationwide, the average time to see an orthopedic surgeon was 16.9 days; a cardiologist, 18.8 days; a dermatologist, 24.3 days; and an OB/GYN, 23.3 days.