Demand for priority procedures continues to rise

March 27, 2014—Last year, 8 out of 10 patients received priority surgical procedures within medically acceptable wait times, a figure that has not improved over the past three years, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

CIHI’s new report, Wait Times for Priority Procedures, 2014, focuses on wait times for five key priority procedures: knee and hip replacement, hip fracture repair, cataract surgery and radiation therapy. The report focuses on the degree to which patients received these procedures within benchmarks established by the federal government and provinces in 2005.

A major challenge is that more Canadians are being referred for these procedures. In fact, Canadian doctors continued to meet higher demands, performing between 5% and 17% more procedures in 2013 than three years earlier. With more Canadians requiring care, though, it is becoming increasingly difficult for provinces to achieve their target of treating 90% of patients within benchmark wait times. Little progress has been made toward reaching this 90% threshold, except for radiation therapy, an area in which all provinces are now performing at or above the target of 28 days.

“Provinces are doing what they can to manage the growing number of patients requiring surgery and are coming up with new approaches to help to meet their targets,” says Kathleen Morris, Director of Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues, CIHI. “However, as more patients need these procedures, innovation will be needed on the part of both governments and hospitals to receive timely treatment.”

Provinces responding to increased demand with wait time initiatives

Innovative approaches such as the following have been implemented across the country to improve wait times:

  • Manitoba’s Cancer Patient Journey Initiative aims to improve patient experience and ensure that Manitobans are diagnosed quickly and go into treatment in 60 days or less.
  • On the east coast, in Newfoundland and Labrador, a centralized orthopedic referral system was initiated to ensure that the work is spread evenly among doctors and that patients avoid long lines.
  • B.C. has launched a province-wide perioperative initiative, using proven processes and practices to improve efficiency and safety for patients who undergo surgery.

Developments in cancer treatment

For the first time, all provinces reported reaching or exceeding 90% of patients receiving radiation therapy within 28 days, marking a milestone and relief for those needing the lifesaving treatment. Across the country, 97% of patients requiring radiation therapy for cancer treatment received it within the medically acceptable time frame.

Provinces are now turning their focus to other cancer areas. New to the report this year is data on cancer surgery waits for five body sites—breast, prostate, colon–rectum, lung and bladder—although benchmark time frames have not yet been established for these procedures. This first year of data on cancer surgery wait times gives health care facilities and decision-makers a glimpse of how we are performing; it will require several more years of data before any interpretations can be made. Provinces are also gearing up to report data on wait times for intravenous chemotherapy, which will be reported in coming years.

Progress on reducing waits can be tracked using CIHI’s interactive graphics, which display numerous years of provincial data.