Unmet health care needs: A reflection of the accessibility of primary services?

In this thematic pamphlet, we present some results of a study entitled Accessibilité et continuité des services de santé - Une étude sur la première ligne au Québec, conducted in 2005 among more than 9000 people in Montréal and Montérégie. Our goal is to provide information concerning unmet health care needs and to analyse the initial implications.

The concept of unmet needs refers to the difference between health services deemed necessary to treat a particular health problem and services actually received. A person who perceived the need to receive medical services—whether information from a health professional or a therapeutic procedure—but who has not obtained these services has unmet health care needs. To a certain extent, this reflects the lack of access to health services.

The hypotheses raised in this document will be the subject of more thorough analyses, the results of which will be published at a later date. The first section gives an overall description of the phenomenon of unmet needs: its scope, the profile of individuals reporting having unmet needs, the nature of health problems for which unmet needs are reported, and the outcome for persons who are not obtaining services. We then examine the factors associated with experiencing unmet needs, and we conclude with a discussion on aspects related to health services organization.

  • Prevalence of unmet needs appears to have grown over the past decade, and attained 18% in our study.
  • Health problems associated with unmet needs were perceived as urgent in one out of five people; this causes a large percentage of people who report unmet needs to feel worried and experience pain, and limits their activities.
  • Experiencing unmet needs affects the population as a whole but is more common among young adults, recent immigrants, people who work or study, individuals with higher levels of education and people who report being in poor health.
  • Unmet needs rates are clearly higher among individuals who have no family doctor and people who go to the emergency as their usual source of primary care.