Waiting for Care
What’s the Issue?
Public opinion polls tell us that Canadians’ big concerns with the healthcare system are waiting times and access to care. But how bad are wait times really? And what will it cost to improve the situation? The following three points will help shape the issue:
First of all, not all waits are or should be equal. For example, studies demonstrate that Canadians generally have rapid access to emergency and essential care. Whereas, wait times for joint replacement could use improvement.
Second, many issues contribute to wait times. This is good news because it means that improving wait times is not just about pouring money into the system. Many long wait times are due to a failure to use appropriate management tools, rather than insufficient resources. For instance, moving from every surgeon their own “list” to a single organized list across surgeons is an important first step in reducing wait times. Ensuring appropriateness of care (e.g. is this MRI necessary?) and priorizing patients according to their relative urgency is another.
Third, several approaches exist for minimizing wait times. Some of these strategies are already working successfully across Canada. For example, the Ontario Wait Times Strategy has had some success in reducing wait times for priority areas including cancer surgery, cataract surgery, hip and knee replacement, and diagnostic imaging. This strategy has focused on reducing waits between a specialist’s treatment recommendation and a medical procedure, such as an operation.