Population patterns of chronic health conditions, co-morbidity and healthcare use in Canada: implications for policy and practice

Healthc Q. 2008;11(3):70-6. doi: 10.12927/hcq.2008.19859.


Managing chronic health conditions is a daily reality for approximately nine million Canadians, and the numbers of people affected are expected to increase as our population ages, particularly if risk factors that contribute to poor health continue to rise. These conditions impact health and well-being and represent a significant, and growing, healthcare and economic burden. The Health Council of Canada has focused its attention on the prevention and management of chronic conditions to encourage discussion of the changes to public policy, healthcare management and health services delivery required to improve health outcomes for Canadians. In December 2007, the Health Council released a report that described the health and healthcare use among Canadians who have chronic conditions as well as their self- reported experiences with chronic illness care. It highlighted initiatives under way in all jurisdictions to improve the situation. In order to inform that report, we analyzed population-based survey data from the Canadian Community Health Survey to report on patterns of health and healthcare use by community-dwelling youth and adults who have one or more of seven high-prevalence, high-impact chronic conditions. We demonstrated that the vast majority of people with chronic conditions have a regular medical doctor and visit community-based doctors and nurses frequently. Not surprisingly, people with chronic conditions use healthcare services more often and more intensively than do those without, and the intensity of service use increases as the numbers of conditions go up. The 33% of Canadians with one or more of seven chronic conditions account for approximately 51% of family physician/general practitioner consultations, 55% of specialist consultations, 66% of nursing consultations and 72% of nights spent in a hospital. This information highlights the imperative of immediate, comprehensive and sustained attention to undertake proven strategies to delay or prevent the onset of chronic conditions and to improve the quality of primary healthcare to prevent complications, reduce the need for more expensive health services and secure a better quality of life for Canadians.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Chronic Disease / therapy
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence