Health Council of Canada Releases Report on Wait Times and Guarantees



    TORONTO, June 26 /CNW/ - While there has been significant progress to
improve and manage centralized information on wait times for targeted health
care procedures, the data needed to see changes over time and compare wait
times on a national level is not available from all jurisdictions, the Health
Council of Canada says in its wait times report, released today.
    Wading through Wait Times: What Do Meaningful Reductions and Guarantees
Mean? reviews progress by provinces and territories in reducing wait times for
non-emergency care from a patient's perspective through a true story about
Frank, a hip replacement patient.
    This report is a look at one of the key public concerns about health
care, set in the context of the national commitment to achieve meaningful
reductions in wait times in five priority areas - cancer, heart, diagnostic
imaging, joint replacements and sight restoration - by March 31, 2007.
    "Clearly there has been progress, and we can see many areas where
jurisdictions are doing more and reporting in more accessible ways to
citizens," said Dr. Jeanne Besner, Chair, Health Council of Canada. "Reporting
wait time information to citizens on the Internet has been no small task.
These information systems have considerable potential to improve patients'
experiences with waits for care."

    Approximately one in 10 Canadians sees a health care specialist each
year, with many patients reporting delays in accessing care. On average,
Canadians reported waiting four weeks to see a specialist, according to
surveys done in 2003 and 2005. Although provinces and territories report wait
times in different ways, information shows median wait times for non-emergency
care have clearly declined for some services. For example:

    
    -  In British Columbia the wait time for cataract surgery has been
       reduced to 7.6 weeks from 9.9 weeks;
    -  In Ontario the wait time for radiation for cancer care has been
       reduced to 4.4 weeks from 6.4 weeks;
    -  In Alberta the wait time for hip replacement has been reduced to 12
       weeks from 16 weeks and for knee replacement has dropped to 17 weeks
       from 22 weeks.
    

    These and other positive developments come at the same time the volume of
services has increased in targeted areas. For some services, in some parts of
the country, more people are getting care more quickly.
    While the information now available for wait times is not sufficient for
Canada-wide monitoring, having this data in the public realm is a significant
step forward and means wait lists are beginning to be managed centrally in a
fair and logical way. Until recently most surgeons kept their own waiting
lists and data were rarely compiled at the provincial, regional or hospital
level. Unfortunately, gaps remain in the availability of wait times
information and the Health Council of Canada continues to call for accelerated
investments in the development of comparable data systems across the country.

    Developed, in part, through interviews with leaders of innovative
programs (see backgrounder), Wading through Wait Times identifies a number of
factors that are critical for success in reducing health care wait times. They
are:
    
    -  Support from government leaders;
    -  Strong program leadership;
    -  Full-time program staff;
    -  Information systems to centralize and track waiting lists;
    -  Adequate funding for information systems and program leadership;
    -  A comprehensive approach to all the changes required to reduce wait
       times.
    

    In addition to reporting on progress in reducing wait times for care as
agreed to in the 2004 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care, this update
provides Canadians with information on the new patient wait time guarantees.
    "Ideally, the best guarantee is one that rarely, if ever, needs to be
invoked," said Councillor Les Vertesi, an emergency physician from British
Columbia. "Jurisdictions have chosen to implement guarantees for services they
already provide, or are well on their way to delivering, within the guaranteed
time frame."
    As Wading through Wait Times concludes, international experiences with
wait time guarantees may be instructive, but they cannot tell us what impact
Canadians can expect from these policies until they are coupled with reliable
and comparative data. Guarantees may play a valuable role in resolving
Canada's wait time problem. But unless access also improves for other health
services, the guarantees by themselves may fall short of meeting the
expectations of Canadians.
    Visit www.healthcouncilcanada.ca to download Wading through Wait Times:
What Do Meaningful Reductions and Guarantees Mean? and the backgrounder
highlighting regional success stories in reducing wait times.

    Background
    ----------
    The Health Council of Canada, created by the 2003 First Ministers' Accord
on Health Care Renewal following the recommendations of the Romanow and Kirby
reports, is mandated to monitor and report on the progress of health care
renewal in Canada. The 26 Councillors were appointed by the participating
provinces, territories and the Government of Canada and have expertise and
broad experience in community care, Aboriginal health, nursing, health
education and administration, finance, medicine and pharmacy.



    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                 BACKGROUNDER

     Shining a light on progress in health care renewal: Regional success
                       stories in reducing wait times
    

    Stories on initiatives to improve access to care in the five targeted
clinical areas appear throughout the Health Council of Canada's latest report
on wait times, Wading through Wait Times: What Do Meaningful Reductions and
Guarantees Mean? These examples illustrate that progress in health care
renewal is happening and is possible when leadership, determination and
resources combine to strengthen our health care system. Here's a quick guide,
with page references, to these stories.

    Cardiac care in Ontario: back to the future

    For the Cardiac Care Network of Ontario, the future began 17 years ago.
Today, thanks to electronic information and a system of regional care
coordinators, patients referred for heart surgery in the province know how
long they can safely wait for their procedure, when they can expect to be
treated, and who to call if their condition changes. See p. 5.

    Cancer care in Nova Scotia: wait times are one step in the continuum of
    care

    Breast cancer rates are down in Nova Scotia, and early diagnosis and
faster access to care are part of the story. The plot also involves mobile
mammography units that reach women where they live, a central booking system,
and attention to how the province's population is changing. See p. 10.

    Hip and knee surgery in BC: connecting the health care dots

    A focus on the interconnections in health care plays a major role in the
success of Vancouver Coastal Health Region in reducing wait times for total
joint replacement surgery to fix aging hips and knees. A pilot project in a
community hospital, now standard practice, reduced wait times by 75% while
also increasing the number of hip and knee replacements by 136%. See p. 17.

    Diagnostic imaging in Saskatchewan: learning from success in surgery

    The first of its kind in Canada, Saskatchewan's Diagnostic Imaging
Network is helping everyone "sing from the same song sheet," and wait times
for tests like MRI and CT scans have declined. Saving money for health regions
through bulk purchases of expensive imagining machines is also worth singing
about. See p. 25.

    Cataract surgery in Ontario: a vision for change

    In less than two years and despite increasing demand, Ontario has managed
to cut wait times for cataract surgery in half. Today, nine out of 10 cases
are done within the 26-week benchmark. Incentives to hospitals to increase
volumes of service, the creation of dedicated sites for low-risk surgeries,
and changes in how people work contributed to this success. See p. 28.

    The full report, Wading through Wait Times: What Do Meaningful Reductions
and Guarantees Mean?, can be downloaded at: www.healthcouncilcanada.ca.





For further information:

For further information: Marta Marychuk, Health Council of Canada -
Media Relations, Phone (416) 480-7085, Cell (416) 428-8423,
mmarychuk@healthcouncilcanada.ca

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