Background: Waiting for specialist consultations can represent a substantial component of overall waiting time in the continuum of care. However, relatively little is known about the factors associated with how long patients wait for an initial specialist consultation.
Data and methods: The analysis is based on a subsample of 5,515 respondents aged 15 or older to the 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey who had consulted a specialist about a new condition in the previous 12 months and reported a waiting time. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to identify patient- and provider-related factors associated with waiting time.
Results: Female patients were less likely than male patients to see a specialist within a month. The nature of the new condition and the source of referral were significantly associated with waiting time. Compared with those referred by a family physician, patients referred by another specialist or a health care provider other than a physician, or who did not require a referral, were more likely to have a shorter waiting time. For men, but not women, household income and immigrant status were associated with waiting time.
Interpretation: This analysis suggests that factors beyond medical need are associated with how long patients wait to see a specialist. More research could usefully explore decision-making and communication processes between primary care physicians and specialists to better understand how urgency is assessed, how patients are triaged for specialist consultations, and how these patterns differ among various groups of patients.