Skip to main content

Phil Hossack/CP

Two new reports say Canada's spending on health care produces mixed results when the system's outcomes are compared to those of other countries.

The country's breast cancer survival rate was among the highest in the 34-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which issued one of the reports.

And rates of avoidable hospitalizations for asthma complications and uncontrolled diabetes were lower in this country than the OECD average.

But the OECD's annual comparison of health care across its member countries says Canadians appeared to experience higher rates of some hospital errors or adverse events, including trauma during delivery of babies.

The report also says Canada has higher rates of foreign bodies being left in incisions after surgeries but that may be because Canada does a better job collecting adverse events data than some other countries.

And wait times to receive care were highest in Canada in an 11-country survey cited in the OECD report, with 59 per cent of respondents reporting they had to wait four weeks or more to see a specialist and 25 per cent saying they waited four months or more for elective surgery.

An assessment of the OECD data by the Canadian Institute for Health Information says comparing health-care outcomes across countries helps identify challenges Canada's health-care system needs to address.

While survival rates for breast cancer and colorectal cancer are among the highest in the OECD, the country has a relatively high rate of cancer compared to other countries, the CIHI report says. As well, the country's self-reported obesity rate is the second-highest in the G7 countries.

"Canada has strong performance in cancer diagnosis and treatment," says Kathleen Morris, director of health system analysis and emerging issues at CIHI.

"For example, lower smoking rates in Canada today may mean fewer lung cancer cases in the future — but some of this progress could be offset by higher obesity rates, which are also a risk factor for cancer."

The OECD report says Canada spent 11.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on health in 2009, more than the OECD average of 9.6 per cent. The United States spent the most, at 17.4 per cent of GDP, with the Netherlands, France and Germany spending slightly more than Canada.

Health spending per person in Canada was also higher than the OECD average. Canada spent $4,363 (U.S.) per person on health care in 2009; the OECD average was $3,233 (U.S.).