Chronic Health Conditions and Experiences With Care report addresses problems with Canada's health systems

Press release ... 

Health Council of Canada calls for immediate action to curb the epidemic of chronic health conditions

Richmond, BC - Dec 13, 2007: Canada must strengthen efforts to prevent chronic health conditions and support patients as active partners in their own care, says the Health Council of Canada, adding that if governments act now, they can curb the growing epidemic of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Although Canadians are quite healthy by international standards, survey analysis by the Health Council ranks Canada last in timely access to high-quality primary health care compared to other countries. For example, 30 per cent of Canadians with a chronic health condition waited six or more days for an appointment the last time they were sick or needed medical attention. In New Zealand and the Netherlands, less than six per cent of adults waited that long.

“With more than nine million Canadians with chronic health conditions, governments must use their full range of influence to keep people healthy, and Canadians should demand better quality care from our health care system,” said Dr. Ian Bowmer, vice-chair of the Health Council of Canada.

Today, the Health Council of Canada released Why Health Care Renewal Matters: Learning from Canadians with Chronic Health Conditions at the Garratt Wellness Centre in Richmond, BC. The report examines whether Canada’s health care system is meeting the needs of people with chronic health conditions and how changes to care can improve their health.

The Garratt Wellness Centre illustrates the work being done through ActNow BC, an all-ofgovernment approach which requires all departments to promote healthy living to reduce the prevalence of common risk factors for chronic conditions. “Health promotion, and most importantly, the prevention of chronic illnesses are keys to addressing the growing demands which our health care system faces,” said Gordon Hogg, Minister of State for ActNow BC. “Our government, with its holistic approach to health care, is addressing the health of British Columbians by encouraging healthy eating, increased physical activity, and the reduction of tobacco usage.”

A handful of risk factors such as inactivity, poor eating habits, and smoking feed the current epidemic of chronic conditions. With the right kind of support, people can reverse their risks and manage complications. A recent Canadian study concluded that if everyone lowered salt consumption by less than one teaspoon a day, cases of high blood pressure would decrease by 30 per cent, saving at least $430 million in physician, laboratory, and medication costs per year.

The Health Council’s report includes results from the first national survey that asks Canadians with chronic health conditions about their experiences with care, as well as an international survey of patients in seven countries.* These surveys focused on seven chronic conditions: arthritis, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, certain lung diseases, and mood disorders. The Health Council focused on the growing prevalence of chronic conditions because they have a profound impact on the health and well-being of millions of Canadians.

Although most Canadians have a family doctor, this report raises questions about the current quality of chronic care, particularly the gaps in helping patients manage their conditions and reduce the risk of complications. Team care is expected to have an impact on the health of people with chronic conditions and improve access to care. The Health Council found 33 per cent of patients with chronic conditions have a nurse regularly involved in their care and 18 per cent see other professionals such as dietitians or pharmacists at their regular place of care. Though people with chronic conditions visit health care providers often, fewer than half report that their regular providers talk to them about specific things to improve their health and prevent illness and too few receive the type of care that experts recommend. Higher-quality primary health care can reduce the use of hospitals. The Health Council found that Canadians with chronic health conditions use 70 per cent of all nights spent in hospital.

“Governments spend billions to care for people after they become sick instead of investing in proven strategies to help people avoid chronic health conditions and complications from them,” said Dr. Stanley Vollant, a councillor with the Health Council of Canada. “With faster access and better quality front-line care, we can significantly reduce the need for time in hospital.”

The Health Council recommends that governments:

  • Invest in proven strategies that improve the quality of care and help people to manage their chronic health conditions;
  • Adopt an all-of-government approach to create the social and environmental conditions people need to reduce their risk for chronic illness;
  • Speed up development of team care as part of a broader redesign of traditional family doctor practices across Canada;
  • Develop and use appropriate data systems to support better tracking, research, and public reporting on chronic health conditions and the impact of investments to promote health and access to care.

The Health Council recommends that Canadians:

  • Demand more from the health care system and the people responsible for it;
  • Show support for public investments in healthy living across all government areas;
  • Take ownership of managing your health and the health of your family.

To read the Health Council of Canada’s report Why Health Care Renewal Matters: Learning from Canadians with Chronic Health Conditions, two data supplements, and a report on the public consultation, visit:


* The Commonwealth Fund 2007 International Health Policy Survey of the General Public’s Views of their Health Care System’s Performance in Seven Countries was sponsored by The Commonwealth Fund, with Harris Interactive as the surveyor. Co-funding for the Canadian sample was provided by the Health Council of Canada; the Dutch sample by The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and The Centre for Quality of Care Research (WOK), Radboud University Nijmegen; and funding of the German sample by the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care.


The Health Council of Canada, created by the 2003 First Ministers’ Accord on Health Care Renewal is mandated to monitor and report on the progress of health care renewal in Canada. The 26 Councillors were appointed by the participating provinces, territories and the Government of Canada and have expertise and broad experience in community care, Aboriginal health, nursing, health education and administration, finance, medicine and pharmacy.

For information:

Marta Marychuk, Health Council of Canada
Phone (416) 480-7085
Cell (416) 428-8423

Nazia Khan, Temple Scott Associates
Phone (416) 360-6183, ext. 229