Canadians wait an average of four hours for emergency room care, and one in 10 patients waits at least eight hours, a report says.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, wait times persist throughout the patient journey, beginning with primary care.

At least 50 per cent of patients surveyed have difficulty obtaining a same-day or next-day appointment with their family doctor, the report says.

For 14 per cent of Canadians, it can take more than three months to see a specialist, and more than four months for 25 per cent of patients needing elective surgery.

When it comes to acute care, roughly 5 percent of patients languish in hospital beds to be transferred to residential care or sent home. The wait for one-fifth of these acute-care patients can be more than a month. Most such patients are over 65 years old.

The report, titled “Health Care in Canada, 2012: A Focus on Wait Times,” Canada lags behind other countries in providing timely access to health care services.

The report cites as an example a 2010 survey that ranked Canada lowest among 11 countries for wait times in primary care, specialist care and elective surgery.

However, according to the report, wait times for treatment for cancer, cardiac, joint-replacement and sight-restoration operations have decreased since 2004-2005, mostly because of the investments made to reduce waits for those treatments.

"Wait times have improved for certain types of care, but more can still be done," John Wright, CIHI president and CEO, said in a statement. “Some strategies that could have wide-ranging impact include looking at how care is organized, at patient flow across sectors of care, and at implementing successful pilot projects more broadly.”

The report mentions several strategies that have proven to be successful in reducing wait times, including financial incentives, human resources and information management. It cited examples of advanced access models implemented in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, and the role of clinical nurse leaders in Yukon.

With files from The Canadian Press

Health Care in Canada, 2012 – A Focus on Wait Times