Sterile instruments are shown at the Cambie Surgery Centre, in Vancouver on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Decade’s worth of Ontario health data finds more severe disease, younger patients

TORONTO — A new study based on a decade’s worth of Ontario health data found more people are facing severe disease, and at a younger age.

Lead author Mitch Steffler, a data scientist with the Ontario Medical Association, said the pre-pandemic findings point to future risks for adolescent patients and greater demand for health-care resources.

While an overall increase in chronic disease between 2009 and 2018 was largely due to an ageing population, Steffler said there was a small rise in prevalence among patients aged 15 to 24 years old.

At the same time, age-standardized prevalence dropped in those aged 45 to 89 years old.

“The increases that we see in chronic conditions among young adult and adolescent populations may portend to greater health-care risk in the future, and may mean we have to devote new resources to caring for this population as they age,” Steffler added in an interview.

Overall, the number of patients with both mental and physical chronic disease increased 11 per cent to 9.8 million, and the number of patients with two or more such conditions increased 12 per cent to 6.5 million.

Those with three or more conditions increased 13.5 per cent to 4.2 million.

After adjusting for age and sex, the prevalence of patients with one or more chronic conditions actually decreased slightly to 69 per cent, while those with two or more conditions dropped to 46 per cent.

However, the downward trend was concentrated in “minor and moderate diseases” while many major chronic diseases became more common, as did extreme instances of patients suffering from more than eight conditions at a time, per the study.

Researchers saw both major and minor mental health diagnoses increase over time.

Dr. Sarah Simkin, a family practice anesthetist west of Ottawa, said she’s noticed evidence of the findings in her own surgery patients, such as an increase in obesity.

She said the study’s broad look at the larger population offers “tremendous value” in preparing for the future.

“The finding about the younger patients with chronic disease and multimorbidity was the most surprising and the most concerning,” Simkin said.

“These are patients that we’re going to be caring for, for a long time.”

The biggest percentage increases in major chronic conditions involved congenital respiratory disorders and transplants, while the biggest jumps in mental health issues involved eating disorders and disorders due to brain injury or illness.

OMA research director Sharada Weir noted some of those larger increases involved conditions that were rare to begin with and don’t always suggest high numbers of new patients.

She said the study was focused on documenting disease trends rather than explaining them: “We wanted to know: was the population getting healthier on average, or sicker on average?”

However, the impact of the pandemic could shift trends soon, she allowed, noting other studies found health-care and diagnostic procedures have been deferred for many people since COVID-19 emerged.

“The story on that is going to become more apparent in the coming months and years,” said Weir, health-care evaluative research director.

Researchers estimated patient complexity by looking at diagnostic codes from various Ontario health-care settings, and analyzed the data with help from software developed by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Weir noted disease prevalence, diagnoses and severity varies from province to province so it would be difficult to extrapolate Ontario’s findings. But she noted CIHI’s research tool is available for other provinces to do their own analysis.

The findings were published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2021.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled Dr. Sarah Simkin’s surname.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

March will be dramatically warmer through the prairies

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

Canada has ordered 24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday Service, in Abbotsford, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. A legal advocacy group challenging British Columbia’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services and public protests is scheduled to be in court today arguing for the church and others that COVID-19 restrictions violate their charter rights. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Churches in court to challenge British Columbia’s COVID-19 health orders

Calgary-based organization says it represents over a dozen individuals and faith communities in the province

A memorial for those killed and injured in a deadly crash involving the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus is visible at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Sask., on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘More pain:’ Some Broncos families angry over request in court to delay lawsuit

Eleven lawsuits were filed after the crash on April 6, 2018

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Sean Hoskin stands on a neighbourhood street in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Hoskin was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost a year ago with symptoms that still persist. Some provinces have established programs to deal with long-term sufferers but Atlantic Canada, with relatively low numbers of patients, has yet to provide a resource to assist them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ hope specialized clinics will emerge

HALIFAX — On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Most Read