Canada ranked last among 11 OECD countries in terms of how quick patients can get an appointment with their regular family doctor, according to a new report.

A 2013 health policy survey by the Commonwealth Fund showed that Canada has seen no improvements in wait times since 2004. The survey results were published Monday in a Health Council of Canada report, which found that depending on where you live in Canada, your experience with the health care system can be vastly different.

“This is about accessing your primary care providers and the issues we continue to have in this country in doing that,” Dr. Mark Dobrow of the Health Council of Canada told CTV News Channel.

“We see that we are by far the country that waits the longest for emergency departments and that’s a direct relationship to the fact that we don’t have good access to our primary care providers at different times of the day,” he said.

According to the report, British Columbia fared the best in terms of the number of patients able to access physician care, with 46 per cent saying they were able to see a doctor on the same day or the next day, while Newfoundland ranked the lowest with 31 per cent.

Dabrow said those figures are bleak compared to international standards.

“Even though British Columbia is the highest performing province, when you look internationally, they’d still be last when we look at the other countries,” he said.

Germany took the top stop on the list with 76 per cent of patients being able to see their doctors same-day or next-day, followed by New Zealand at 72 per cent and Switzerland at 69 per cent.

The U.S. ranked second last in the same category, with 48 per cent of those polled south of the border saying they could get a same-day or next-day appointment.

Nearly half of Canadians (47 per cent) reported that they recently went to an emergency department for a health problem that their regular doctor could have treated if he or she had been available -- the highest among the countries surveyed.

Up to 15% of Canadians don't have a family doctor

Emergency room wait times is another area where Canada is ranked last, with 26 per cent reporting that they've waited four hours or more to be seen in the emergency department. The Netherlands ranked first on the list, with only one per cent having waited more than four hours in an ER.

The report also noted that depending on the province, between three and 15 per cent of Canadians do not have a regular doctor or clinic.

Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, president of the Canadian Medical Association, says several different factors have contributed to the increase in patient wait times across Canada.

“We don’t have a national strategy on how to best meet the needs of patients and so it’s not just the shortage of physicians, it’s a shortage of other health care providers,” he told CTV News.

He says both the federal and provincial governments need to formulate a plan to provide coordinated health care across the country.

“Other countries have addressed the issue by creating a national intelligence centre that would try and plan according to the needs of the population and we don’t have that, so unfortunately we have pretty well 13 different territories trying to go at it by themselves,” he said.

Francescutti notes that even though recent studies suggest that there seems to be a surplus of physicians in the country, nearly 5 million Canadians still don’t have access to primary health care services.

He says many of these patients end up in crowded hospital emergency rooms, adding further pressure to a drained health care system.

“As an emergency physician, I can tell you that a lot of patients are embarrassed to be there, but they say, ‘I have no other place to go because I don’t have a family physician’ or ‘My family physician’s office is closed,’” he explained.

Francescutti says Canada can certainly do better and points to countries such as Germany and Switzerland that have superior electronic medical records that keep track of appointments and streamline the system.

But it wasn't all bad news in the latest Health Council of Canada bulletin.

The organization found that 42 per cent of Canadians agree that on the whole, their health care system works fairly well and only minor changes are needed, while in 2004, only 22 per cent felt the same way.

More than 60 per cent of Canadians also rate their health as very good or excellent.

Other findings include:

  • Accessing medical care after hours without going to an emergency room is difficult for 62 per cent of Canadians
  • Between two and 20 per cent of Canadian women have never had a Pap test, and up to 34 per cent of women have never been screened for breast cancer
  • 61 per cent of Canadians do not get reminders when they are due for preventive care; the rate has gone unchanged since 2004
  • 20 per cent of Canadians hospitalized overnight left without written instructions about what they should do and what symptoms to watch for at home

The authors of the report say the "big message" to take home is the lack of progress in many areas of the health care system across Canada.

"Although Canadians have more confidence in the health care system, access to care has not substantially improved and patients are not reporting that their care is better integrated or more patient-centred," the authors conclude.

The report, titled "Where You Live Matters: Canadian views on health care quality," compared findings among the 11 OECD countries that took part in the survey between March and June 2013.