Canadian Medical Association

Canadian Medical Association

January 30, 2007 11:30 ET

CMA: Wait Time Efforts Leaving Some Patients Behind

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - Jan. 30, 2007) - Research released today by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) shows that current efforts to reduce wait times for patients in targeted areas of health care may be causing longer waits for patients in other areas.

"We recognize that governments are making important progress in reducing wait times in some areas, but Canada's doctors are very concerned that it's coming at the expense of timely access to other treatment," said Dr. Colin McMillan, CMA President. "Having benchmarks drives improvement, but when you don't have them throughout the system, you risk a "balloon effect", in which one part of the system gets squeezed so that another can expand."

Physician fears over the balloon effect - in which a narrow focus on reducing wait times in certain areas causes wait times to grow in others - were evident when the CMA conducted an online consultation over eight weeks in the fall that garnered input from approximately 4,000 physicians, residents and medical students.

Also evident were concerns that there simply aren't enough resources in the system to make the benchmarks work. "It's a problem of not enough doctors, not enough nurses, and not enough health care professionals in general," said Dr. McMillan

Highlights of the results that dealt with wait times include:

- 55 per cent of physicians and residents cited the emergence of "have" and "have-not" specialties as a result of resources being dedicated to the five priority areas (cancer, cardiac care, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration). Only 13 per cent said they did not see this trend, while the rest were neutral or did not know.

- 55 per cent of physicians and residents practicing within the five priority areas said that adequate investments still had not been made to support wait time reduction efforts, while 16 per cent felt they had. Of the 48 individual specialties represented in the consultation, none had a majority of respondents who believed adequate investments have been made to support the five priority areas.

- Half of physicians gave wait times effort a "poor" grade (D), and 59% believe things will get worse in specialty care over the next five years. Family physicians and surgeons report the most negative view of wait times efforts, with 63% of family physicians and 61% of surgeons rating wait times efforts as poor or very poor.

These and other preliminary results of the consultation were reviewed at a meeting of 45 national medical organizations held by CMA on January 26. Further consultation on the issue will take place with doctors over the winter, with recommendations to be unveiled by CMA in the spring.

"Wait time benchmarks and performance goals in the five priority areas identified by governments clearly establish how long is too long to wait for care. Thanks to this, and a significant amount of political will, thousands of patients are getting faster care," said Dr. McMillan. "Now, governments need to move quickly to develop benchmarks in all areas. And they need to once and for all address the need for more health care professionals in the system to enable us to meet those benchmarks."

"Our thanks go out to the thousands of physicians, residents and medical students who contributed to this important effort," said Dr. Charmaine Roye, head of the Steering Committee responsible for the research. "We will now work to make sure this valuable input translates into positive change for our patients."

The CMA online consultation on specialty care took place between Sept. 27 and Nov. 23, 2006. Canadian physicians, medical residents and medical students were invited to complete an online workbook and to share stories and ideas concerning the delivery of specialty care services to Canadians. The initiative is being guided by an 11-member Specialty Care Review Working Group led by Dr. Charmaine Roye, a Brantford obstetrician/gynecologist. The working group brings together a cross-section of the medical profession, including medical specialty societies, provincial medical associations and other national medical organizations.

See an overview of the research on

Contact Information

  • Steve Wharry
    1-800-663-7336 or
    613-731-8610 ext. 2135