Most patients receiving care within recommended wait times for priority areas: CIHI

Length of time patients wait for care varies by province

March 24, 2010 – A new study released today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows that there are variations between provinces in meeting wait time benchmarks and in reducing wait times for priority-area procedures. For example, the study found that as of December 2009, most patients (75%) in six provinces were getting hip replacement surgery within the recommended wait time, but at least one-quarter of patients in the remaining four provinces waited longer than the benchmark time.

CIHI’s study, Wait Times Tables-A Comparison by Province, 2010, reports on patient wait times for five priority areas identified by Canada’s first ministers in 2004: cancer treatment, cardiac care, sight restoration, joint replacement and diagnostic imaging. Benchmarks were set for several of these areas, as well as for hip fracture repair. Provinces report how long patients wait for care compared to the benchmarks. In this annual study, CIHI reports on the progress being made across jurisdictions.

“This study provides the most complete picture of wait times to date,” says Tracy Johnson, Manager of Special Projects, Emerging Issues, at CIHI. “The provinces have worked collaboratively to make wait time reporting more comparable. It is not easy, but we are seeing progress in the quality of reporting and in reducing wait times.”

Most Canadians receiving hip surgery, cataract surgery and radiation therapy within benchmarks

CIHI’s study shows that most patients are receiving care within recommended wait times for priority-area procedures, such as hip fracture repair, cataract surgery, cancer radiation therapy and hip replacements.

Among the highlights of this year’s report:

  • Hip fracture repair: Across the provinces for which data is available, close to four out of five (79%) patients waited less than the 48-hour benchmark for hip fracture repair surgery. Research suggests timely surgery to repair a broken hip improves patient outcomes and reduces the risk of mortality.
  • Cataract surgery: In 8 out of 10 provinces, at least 75% of cataract surgery patients are treated within the recommended time frame of 16 weeks. In the remaining two provinces, the range is 61% to 69% of patients.
  • Cancer radiation therapy: Eight out of 10 provinces provide at least 88% of their patients with cancer radiation treatment within the medically acceptable benchmark of four weeks. In the remaining provinces, the range is 62% to 74% of patients.
  • Hip replacements: For 6 out of 10 provinces, at least three-quarters of patients are receiving hip replacement surgery within the 26-week wait time benchmark. For the other four provinces, the range is 51% to 63% of patients

Waits for knee replacements longer than for other priority procedures

The study found that patients in all 10 provinces wait longer for knee replacements than for any other priority procedure. However, for the three most populous provinces (Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia), at least three-quarters of patients received knee replacements within the recommended wait time of 26 weeks. On the other end, fewer than half of patients had their knee replaced within the benchmark in two provinces.

“Although most patients receive their care within recommended wait times, reports like this help demonstrate that there are still variations between the provinces,” explains Jenny Lineker, Program Lead, Wait Times Project, CIHI.

Waits for joint replacements improving; diagnostic imaging trends less clear

Although waits for knee replacements are longer than for other priority procedures, this is also the area that saw the most improvement across the country over the past three years. Five out of six provinces where trends can be measured (Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia) saw reductions in waits for knee replacements over the past three years, while one remained unchanged (Quebec). Likewise, three out of six provinces (Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia) saw reductions in hip replacement wait times, with stable trends for the remaining three provinces (Nova Scotia, Quebec and Alberta).

Though wait times information is more limited for diagnostic imaging than for other priority-area procedures, the study found waits for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were longer than for computed tomography (CT) scans. Currently, no pan-Canadian benchmarks exist for CT and MRI scans.

About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) collects and analyzes information on health and health care in Canada and makes it publicly available. Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments created CIHI as a not-for-profit, independent organization dedicated to forging a common approach to Canadian health information. CIHI’s goal: to provide timely, accurate and comparable information. CIHI’s data and reports inform health policies, support the effective delivery of health services and raise awareness among Canadians of the factors that contribute to good health.