Assessing health care in Canada’s North: what can we learn from national and regional surveys?

T. Kue Young1*, Carmina Ng2 and Susan Chatwood3,4

1School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada; 2Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada; 3Institute for Circumpolar Health Research, Yellowknife, NT, Canada; 4Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada


Background. Health surveys are a rich source of information on a variety of health issues, including health care.

Objectives. This article compares various national and regional surveys in terms of their geographical coverage with respect to the Canadian North, especially their Aboriginal population, and the comparability of the survey contents relating to health care.

Methods. Three surveys were selected as providing some information on health care, with separate estimates for the North and its Aboriginal populations. They are the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS) and the First Nations Regional Health Survey (RHS).

Results. Different surveys focus on different categories of Aboriginal people, and no single survey has covered all categories of Aboriginal people in the North consistently. RHS is targeted at the on-reserve First Nations population only. APS and CCHS sample the off-reserve First Nations population as well as Métis and Inuit. To achieve adequate sample size for North–South comparisons and comparisons among Aboriginal groups within the North, several cycles of the biennial/annual CCHS can be merged, producing a large data set with consistent coverage of topics using comparable questions. The content areas of the 3 surveys can be broadly categorized as health status, health determinants and health care. Substantial variation exists across surveys in the domains covered. There are also changes over time in terms of definitions, questions and even basic concepts. The available health care content of the 3 surveys focus on access to different types of health services, contact with different categories of health professionals, unmet health needs and the use of preventive services. Many important dimensions of health care are not covered. Not all these basic indicators are available for the North or its Aboriginal populations.

Conclusions. A comprehensive survey of health care in the North with sufficient sample size to provide reliable estimates for its subpopulations – urban and remote, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis – would provide useful information to decision-makers and service providers. Analytical studies can also be conducted to investigate the correlations and interactions among health status, health determinants and health care and assess whether such relationships differ among the different population groups.

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