Ontario surgery wait times online comparison shows wide variance

Government hopes to improve accountability, make wait times shorter

CBC News Posted: Aug 16, 2017

Data published by the Ontario government allows patients across Ontario to compare wait times at different health care facilities for elective surgeries. (CBC)

The Ontario government’s online tool for comparing hospital surgery wait times shows a wide regional variance, but a medical professional is hopeful the data will make people push for change.

The list, which allows patients to compare wait times at their local facilities to others across the province, is something Dr. Chris Simpson hopes will make a difference.

‘Patients have much more political power than I do as a physician.’– Dr. Chris Simpson

Vice Dean at The Queen’s University School of Medicine in Kingston, Ont., Simpson said that the more information put in patient’s hands, the more improvements will be seen across the province.

“Patients have much more political power than I do as a physician,” he said. ‘This will show the inequities in the province.”

Consistently inconsistent

While some wait times range minimally, other hospitals can leave patients waiting more than a year for elective surgeries.

The shortest average wait times provincially are for cardiac surgery, with an average of 0.9 days. The longest is for knee replacement surgery, averaging 124 days.

And even within those categories, patients in Pembroke wait just 31 days for a knee replacement, while Strathroy patients can wait 431 days for the same procedure.

“What’s consistent is that there is no consistency,” said Simpson. “The diversity across the province, and how one Ontarian can be treated differently in terms of wait times is simply because of their postal code.”

Close to home

While the easy answer seems to be travelling for a shorter wait time, Simpson insists it’s not that simple.

“It isn’t at all realistic” to expect people to travel for elective surgeries, he said. “We hear over and over that patients prefer to stay close to home.”

Traveling for surgeries can incur excess costs that are unreasonable for some patients and their families. Leaving them with the options of seeking out other specialists, or going on wait lists for treatment on short notice in their area.

Last week, the provincial government also announced a $13 million investment over two years to expand eReferral systems that connect patients and primary care providers to specialists and other health care services in several regions including Waterloo-Wellington, Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant, and across the north.

By sharing data, Dr. Chris Simpson hopes wait times will even out across the province. (Health Quality Ontario)

The Ontario government says that wait times are influenced by how serious ones illness is, how many other patients are seeking treatment, and how different facilities schedule patients.

Simpson says hopefully the data will have the power to shift some factors over scheduling and staffing, and manage wait times better across the province.

“Those sorts of conversations can happen when the data are open and transparent,” he said.

Classically Canadian response

While wait times for elective surgeries in the province are an issue, especially when compared to European countries, Simpson maintains that Ontario healthcare is still serving Canadians well.

While elective surgery waits can vary, Ontario remains a leader in access to emergency and urgent care. (Brian St. Denis/CBC News)

“Ontario has been a leader in wait times generally,” he said, especially when it comes to emergent or urgent care. “It’s scheduled or elective surgeries where we have the problem.”

Even with this issue, Simpson says Canadian patients take it in stride.

“What always impresses me with Canadians is how patient they are with their wait times.”


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