Little change in wait times for Canadians

Knee replacements have longest waits; most radiation therapy provided within benchmarks

OTTAWA, March 22, 2012 /Canada NewsWire/ - A new analysis from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) reveals that about 8 out of 10 Canadians receive priority-area procedures—including hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, hip fracture repair and radiation therapy—within the medically recommended time frames.

Featuring provincial comparisons and trends in wait times, the analysis further reveals the following:

...Almost all (97%) patients receive radiation therapy within the recommended time frame of four weeks;

...Similar proportions of patients receive hip replacement (82%), hip fracture repair (79%) and cataract surgery (82%) within these procedures' respective time frames;

...Knee replacements have the longest wait times, with 75% of patients receiving care within the benchmark time frame.

These results are largely similar to last year's findings.

First ministers named timely access to care a top priority in 2004. They identified priority areas and issued wait time benchmarks for seven procedures. While all patients would ideally receive treatment within these time frames, this may not be achievable or practical. For example, some patients may experience other illnesses or complications while waiting. Others may choose to delay surgery, preferring to schedule it when a family member is available to help with post-treatment care. For reasons such as these, providing care to 90% of patients within the benchmark may be a reasonable target.

From a national perspective, radiation therapy is the only procedure for which 90% of patients receive care within the benchmark time frame. From a provincial/territorial perspective, hip replacement in Ontario is the only procedure to reach the 90% threshold. Examination of wait time trends over the last three years reveals limited improvement toward benchmarks.

"Across provinces, there has been little change in wait times for priority procedures since 2009," says Jeremy Veillard, CIHI's Vice President of Research and Analysis. "These results may seem generally positive, but some patients are still waiting too long for care relative to benchmarks."

Provinces struggle to reduce wait times

This year, a few provinces showed longer wait times for areas such as knee and hip replacements and cataract surgery. British Columbia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island now have longer waits for knee replacement. P.E.I. also has longer waits for hip replacement and cataract surgery.

However, two provinces showed wait time improvements for more than one priority area: Saskatchewan for hip and knee replacements and Nova Scotia for hip replacement and radiation therapy.

"It is difficult for provinces to reach the 90% threshold," says Tracy Johnson, Manager of Emerging Issues at CIHI. "Reports like this identify that there are still opportunities to improve access to care."

CIHI's new interactive display enables better tracking of progress and benchmarking over time

The launch of CIHI's interactive wait times display depicts four years of comparable provincial data. This unique tool is easy to use and will help decision-makers

...Analyze data for trending over time or in a specific time frame, all with one click;

...Refine data to the provincial level with a simple click; and

...Access pan-Canadian, at-a-glance performance information for all priority-area benchmarks.

The report, interactive data display and the following figure and table are available from CIHI's website, at