The economic crisis may be adversely affecting Canadians' health, according to a new survey, which found that many are cancelling dentist appointments and skipping meals due to financial concerns.

The Canadian Medical Association's 9th Annual National Report Card on Health Care surveyed more than 4,000 adults, and found that nearly one quarter of Canadians are spending less time, money and energy on maintaining their health.

The survey found that, due to financial concerns:

  • 25 per cent of respondents delayed or cancelled dentist appointments.
  • 14 per cent delayed or stopped buying some prescription drugs.
  • 22 per cent opted not to enroll in a recreational sport or activity.
  • 16 per cent skipped meals.
  • 32 per cent spent less money on food.

The survey also found that 23 per cent of respondents were losing sleep because they are worried about money.

Outgoing CMA president Dr. Robert Ouellet called the findings "scary."

"It's surprising and it's a bit scary to see that part of the population is suffering from the economic crisis in a country where, we believe, everything is free in health care, which is not the case because those things like dental care or pharmacare are not free," Ouellet told Canada AM on Monday in an interview from Saskatoon.

According to the findings, Canadians in a lower income bracket were more likely to spend less on their health.

While 16 per cent of respondents who earn $90,000 or more annually said they spent less time, money and energy on their health, that number nearly doubled, to 31 per cent, among respondents making less than $30,000 a year.

And of those who said they spent less money on food, 23 per cent made $90,000 or more per year, while 44 per cent made less than $30,000 annually.

While the report does not offer solutions to these concerns, Ouellet said it's clear that now is the time to fix problems in the health care system to optimize service for all Canadians.

While nearly 80 per cent of respondents rated their health as excellent, very good or good and 67 per cent gave the health care system an A or B grade, many felt they waited longer than they thought was reasonable for a number of services, including:

  • a specialist (55 per cent),
  • a CT scan or MRI (46 per cent)
  • a family physician (39 per cent)
  • chemotherapy or radiation (22 per cent)

"We have a good system but if we don't fix things we will have big problems, because my generation, I'm a baby boomer, is a large part of the population that will use more health care," Ouellet said. "We will need, in a few years, more long-term care. We need to fix that."

Ouellet, who is in Saskatoon for the CMA's annual meeting, will present his findings from a fact-finding mission to Europe, where he studied a number of health care systems.

He says that public systems in Europe don't cost more to run, but don't have the wait times for care that Canadians face, largely because private clinics are allowed to offer services.

Despite the prevalence of private clinics, Europeans aren't paying out of their own pockets for health care and they're not jumping the queue. Rather, the public system pays for treatment in private clinics, which eases the burden on public facilities, Ouellet said.

"The important thing is the patient. It's not the delivery system, it's the patient," Ouellet said. "The most important thing is to give good care to the patient, whether it is in the public system or the private system, as long as the patient is not paying out of his pocket for that."