Individuals with a Disability Have Much Higher Rates of Unmet Health Care Needs

Rebecca Casey, PhD
McMaster University, Canada

Canadians experience high rates of unmet health care, with even higher rates for individuals with physical disabilities. Additional research is required to answer the following question: “how have rates of unmet health care needs changed over time?”. This research addresses this question by examining rates of unmet health care needs over eight waves of data from the Canadian National Population Health Survey.

What did you do in your research?
We focused on specific groups of individuals: individuals without disabilities, individuals with disabilities as a result of a disease or illness, individuals with work-related disabilities, and disabilities resulting from any other reason. The reasons for an unmet health care need were collapsed into two categories: personal reasons and structural reasons. When examining how personal and structural reasons for unmet health care needs change over time, the categories for disability status were collapsed into a new category labeled ‘individuals with disabilities’ and compared to individuals without disabilities.

What did you find out?
Individuals with a disability, regardless of cause, have much higher rates of unmet health care needs, between three to almost five times higher, compared to individuals without a disability. The rates of unmet health care need are increasing over time, especially for those with a disability. However, the rate of increase for individuals with a work-related disability is slower. Focusing on personal reasons for unmet health care needs, there was no significant difference between individuals with disabilities and individuals without disabilities; however, there was a significant difference when focusing on structural reasons for unmet health care needs. At baseline, individuals with a disability are over 40% more likely to report a structural reason for unmet health care needs. Rates of structural reasons for unmet health care needs increase over time, unlike personal reasons for unmet health care needs which decrease over time.

What are the take-home messages?
Rates of unmet health care needs in Canada have been increasing over time and individuals with a disability, regardless of cause, have higher rates of unmet health care needs compared to individuals without disabilities. Structural reasons are more common than personal reasons for reporting unmet health care needs, especially for individuals with a disability, therefore, changes in health care policy and delivery of health care could reduce or eliminate a significant number of unmet health care needs. Since the prevalence of disability in Canada is increasing simultaneously with an increase in reporting unmet health care needs by individuals with disabilities, more research is needed to understand why individuals with disabilities report such high rates of unmet health care needs and to identify what needs to be done to ensure these individuals receive the care they need as they age with their disability.

To learn more about these findings contact Rebecca Casey.

Full Journal Article
Casey, R. (2015). Disability and unmet health care needs in Canada: A longitudinal analysis. Disability and Health Journal, 8(2), 173-181.