Canadian Orthopaedic Association

Canadian Orthopaedic Association

August 29, 2005 09:00 ET

Patients shouldn't have to wait

More than six months for orthopaedic surgery Attention: City Editor, Health/Medical Editor, News Editor MONTREAL/QUEBEC--(CCNMatthews - Aug. 29, 2005) - In the expert opinion of the Canadian Orthopaedic Association (COA), patients shouldn't have to wait more than three months to see a surgeon for consultation, or more than six months to undergo any orthopaedic operation. However, because of the inherently urgent nature of joint-replacement surgery, these procedures should best be performed within three months.

The COA, which represents Canada's orthopaedic surgeons, recommends that health ministries adopt Maximum Acceptable Wait Times as benchmarks to gauge performance on reducing wait times for orthopaedic procedures, including joint-replacement surgery. The recommendation is in response to provisions in the 2004 Health Accord's Wait Times Reduction Fund.

Briefly, beginning in 2004/05 and over the following six years, the Fund will invest $4.5 billion in such priorities as training and hiring health-professionals, clearing patient backlogs and expanding community-care programs. In return, provinces and territories have committed to developing Canadian benchmarks in different clinical areas (including joint-replacement surgery) by year's end 2005 in order to measure progress.

"We reviewed the scientific literature and examined a number of different approaches to benchmarks in other countries," says Dr. Hans Kreder, co-chair of the COA's National Standards Committee, "and we concluded that Maximum Acceptable Wait Times were the best way to measure progress. The concept, itself, acknowledges that a patient's health can decline significantly if waiting for surgery becomes very prolonged."

Dr. Kreder also stresses that "maximum" means "we should be able to do much better than three months for an initial appointment and six months for surgery, once we catch up on backlogged patients." Just achieving those maximum wait times will be a serious challenge that could take years, since Canadian patients must often wait at least twice as long to see a surgeon and undergo surgery.

The urgency to achieve and surpass a six-month wait for surgery is underscored by the deteriorating condition of many backlogged patients. "According to many of my colleagues from across the country," says Dr. Kreder, "most of the patients they see are classified as 'Priority Two,' meaning they should really receive surgery within three months. This patient population could easily decline to Priority One, when their clinical situation demands attention within 30 days or risk emergency admission."

The major cause of long waiting lists in Canada is a shortage of operating time. Any effective long-term solution to wait times for orthopaedic surgery will need to address this issue, and others such as training and hiring more surgeons, anesthesiologists and orthopaedic nurses, and increasing hospital budgets for purchasing orthopaedic devices.

"Benchmarks are a useful first step, but they don't shorten waiting lists," says COA President Dr. Robert B. Bourne. "We look forward to renewed investment in orthopaedic care through the Wait Times Reduction Fund and the Health Accord so that our patients can be treated in the timely manner they deserve."

- 30 - /For further information: Douglas Thomson
CEO, Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Phone: 514-874-9003
Fax: 514-874-0464
Email: doug@canorth.org
Website: www.coa-aco.org/ IN: HEALTH

Contact Information

  • Douglas Thomson, CEO, Canadian Orthopaedic Association
    Primary Phone: 514-874-9003 ext. 4
    E-mail: doug@canorth.org