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Canada not as good at after-hours medical care as other countries, report finds

A new report suggests Canadians have a harder time getting rapid access to their doctors, especially outside of working hours, than people in a group of similar countries.

The report shows Canadians are least likely to be able to get a same-day or next-day medical appointment, compared with residents of countries such as Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand and the United States.

And Canadians are among the least likely to be able to get a house call from their doctor.

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The report says 58 per cent of Canadian doctors reported they make home visits, compared with between 90 and 100 per cent in the Netherlands, Norway, Britain, France and Switzerland.

The findings are included in the 2012 Commonwealth Fund international health policy survey, which asked primary-care doctors to assess the performance of their health-care systems on a wide range of issues.

Doctors in 11 countries were polled for the survey, which was conducted between March and July of 2012.

In Canada, the report was released Monday by the Health Council of Canada.

Most of the Canadian doctors polled felt better about Canada's system than they did a few years ago, but only 40 per cent said the system works well and needs only minor changes.

One of the problems the report highlights is after-hours care.

Canadian doctors are among the least likely to have arrangements for their patients to see other doctors – other than in hospital emergency departments – when their practices are closed.

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While having an arrangement for patients to be able to consult another doctor or a nurse after hours seems to be the norm in many of the countries in the survey, only 46 per cent of doctors in Canada reported having such a system in place.

"That's a system issue that needs to be addressed because ... your only recourse then is an emergency room. And Canada is pretty well the highest user of emergency rooms," said John Abbott, CEO of the Health Council of Canada.

"It's inefficient for the system, it's definitely much more costly for the system and as a patient it is not the appropriate area for care."

In addition to the international comparisons, the poll broke responses down by province as well within Canada.

Doctors in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario are more likely to make house calls. Doctors in the three Prairie provinces were the least likely to do so.

Ontario doctors are considerably more likely to have arrangements for after-hours care for their patients than doctors in other provinces; Manitoba doctors were the least likely.

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