Progress cutting hospital wait times has stalled
Progress cutting hospital wait times has stalled

TORONTO Progress towards cutting the time Canadians have to wait to get critical operations and health procedures has stalled a new update on the waittimes initiative suggests

Though there were early gains after provinces committed themselves to attacking wait times in 2004 there has been little progress since 2009 said Jeremy Veillard vice president of research and analysis for the Canadian Institutes for Health Information which monitors the wait times data and issues an annual report

This years report suggests that the situation isnt necessarily bad but may not be getting better either And for some patients the waits are still excessive

quotThese results may seem generally positive but some patients are still waiting too long for care relative to benchmarksquot Veillard said

The report suggests about 80 per cent of patients who needed one or another of the seven priority procedures covered by the waittime guarantees received care within the specified time

The vast majority of patients 97 per cent receive radiation therapy within the recommended time frame of four weeks Knee replacements had the longest wait times with only 75 per cent of patients getting the procedure within the agreedupon time frame

An equal percentage of patients 82 per cent underwent hip replacement and cataract surgery within the wait time benchmark but only 79 per cent of people needing operations to repair hip fractures were cared for within that set time

Those numbers might actually look better than the reality patients experienced said Steven Lewis a health policy consultant based in Saskatchewan

Thats because under this initiative the clock starts ticking from when a specialist orders a procedure But in some cases getting to see the specialist in the first place is a major part of the wait and this initiative isnt designed to attack that problem Lewis said

quotThis is a classic systemscentred measurement If you had a really patientcentred measurement you would focus on what part of that experience is meaningful to the patientquot he said

quotAnd the patient thinks he or she is waiting from the time the GP general practitioner estimates that a procedure is warranted to the time its actually donequot

quotIts cold comfort for a patient to have the procedure done three months after theyve seen the specialist when it took them eight months to see the specialist in the first placequot

Lewis said in Britain a program aimed at capping wait times starts the clock from the time a patient sees his or her family doctor and aims to have the needed procedure completed within three months

For patients admitted to hospital the British system hits the target in 914 per cent of the cases according to government statistics released last week For patients not admitted to hospital the success rate is even higher 971 per cent

In Canada officials acknowledge it may be impossible to aim for 100 per cent success Some patients will need to defer surgery for personal reasons and some become ill with other conditions when they wait for surgery Given that reality its estimated that 90 per cent is a more realistic goal to try to achieve

And even that is proving tough In fact some provinces have lost ground over the last year British Columbia New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island now have longer waits for knee replacements and PEI also has longer waits for hip replacements and cataract surgeries

quotIt is difficult for provinces to reach the 90 per cent threshold Reports like this identify that there are still opportunities to improve access to carequot said Tracy Johnson manager of emerging issues at the Canadian Institute for Health Information

Date : 24 Mar, 2012
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