Data helps reduce wait times for cancer surgeries in Saskatchewan

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CIHI produces timely, relevant data that Canadian decision-makers can use to help inform their decisions.

2 years ago, we brought you the story of the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative (SSI) and how CIHI’s breast cancer surgery report complemented Saskatchewan’s statistics to steer the SSI’s work to reduce wait times.

“CIHI has been the only source for this kind of data,” said Dr. Peter Barrett, physician leader at the SSI. “Any data we have that can give us some kind of idea what’s going on has tremendous value.”

Saskatchewan is an important case, particularly in terms of breast cancer surgery.

Since 2008–2009, the province has consistently had some of the highest mastectomy surgery rates among Canadian provinces — significantly higher than the national rate.

CIHI’s recent annual release of breast cancer and prostate cancer data (on March 24) shows that Saskatchewan had the highest rate of index mastectomies in Canada (57.7) and the second highest rate for final mastectomies (62.9) in 2012–2013.

5 years ago, the Saskatchewan government set out to improve the surgical patient experience and shorten wait times for surgery to 3 months, by March 2014.

This was more than just a commitment to meet benchmarks for the sake of statistics or national rankings. Indeed, this focus on wait times helped to ensure patient safety by improving quality of care.

In the final update of its 4-year mandate last spring, the SSI showed just how effective its efforts have been to reduce wait times for cancer surgery in that province.

At the time the initiative ended on March 31, 2014, there were 3,824 patients waiting longer than 3 months for surgery — 75% fewer than the 15,352 patients waiting that long at the start of the initiative in 2010.

“Since the introduction of this initiative, there has been a dramatic improvement in access to surgical care for the people of Saskatchewan,” said Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan. “Thanks to the hard work of regional health authorities and patients, we saw a remarkable improvement in surgical wait times across the province.”

The system will continue to monitor achievement of the wait time target and to implement improvements to the safer and smarter delivery of surgical care.

“We’ve seen that you can spend a lot of money on something and wait times will improve — some a great deal — but it’s not sustainable,” said Dr. Barrett. “Long-term, we need to rely on quality and on improving the ways we do things to provide value to our patients.”

CIHI released its annual Wait Times in Canada report on April 17. For radiation therapy in Saskatchewan, which is of course closely tied to cancer surgery and cancer treatment in general, the report shows that more people received their treatment within the accepted benchmarks during the initiative’s time frame. For example, in 2008, 81% of radiation therapy in Saskatchewan was administered within benchmark, but from 2009 to 2014, that number was 97% or higher.

Reducing wait times is an important part of maximizing the chance of survival.

Among OECD countries , Canada trails the United States and Australia on breast cancer survival rate.

The application of data, like that done by the Saskatchewan Surgery Initiative, helps create better outcomes for Canadians.