Report shows Alberta lagging behind in joint replacement, cataract surgery wait times

New data shows more Albertans are waiting longer than recommended for joint replacements and cataract surgeries.

'It's certainly a concern when we see wait times increasing', medicare critic says

Alison Palmer, 41, underwent hip replacement surgery last June and waited close to eight months for the procedure. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

A new report shows more Albertans are experiencing longer wait times for joint replacements and cataract surgeries than two years ago.

The Canadian Institute For Health Information (CIHI) released new data showing the percentage of Canadians in each province who had procedures done within the recommended wait times from April to September of 2018.

The data shows more Albertans are waiting longer for hip and knee replacements and cataract surgeries than two years prior, while the number of Albertans waiting for hip fracture repair and radiation therapy is on par or lower than two years prior.

'It does really hinder what you can do'

After years of severe arthritis, Alison Palmer, 41, had hip replacement surgery last June. She was told by a doctor it might take nine months to wait for the procedure. After eight months of waiting, she ended up having the surgery.

"The surgery, it was amazing," Palmer said. "It went really well."

As happy as she was to get the surgery done earlier than her doctor predicted, the recommended wait time for a hip replacement is six months.

"Of course we want wait times to be as short as possible because it's extremely difficult to live in constant pain and it does really hinder what you can do," Palmer said.

Percentage of Albertans who received priority procedures within recommended wait times in 2018

Hip Replacement: Wait time benchmark for 6 months

  • 2018: 70%  2016: 82%

Knee Replacement: Wait time benchmark of 6 months

  • 2018: 66%   2016: 77%

 Cataract Surgery: Wait time benchmark of 16 weeks

  • 2018: 49%   2016: 58%

Hip fracture repair: Wait time benchmark of 48 hours

  • 2018: 94%   2016: 91%

Radiation Therapy: Wait time benchmark of 28 days

  • 2018: 99%  2016: 100%

The CIHI numbers are on par with what Friends of Medicare, an Alberta organization which raises awareness of Medicare issues, has seen as a trend of increasing wait times for these procedures.

"It's certainly a concern when we see wait times increasing because nobody should have to wait for the necessary surgeries that will ultimately improve their lives," said Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare.

"So for us, this actually calls attention to a need to have better planning and a more integrated system that will address some of these wait times."

AHS Response

Alberta Health Services issued a statement in response to the CIHI report.

"Specifically, improvements have been made since September 2018 in surgical procedures for cancer, cardiac, cataract and orthopedic surgeries and in imaging (CT/MRI)," it stated.

"We know that we need to continue to improve in the area of wait times, and that for too many Albertans, this is a major issue.  We are confident that our efforts, in partnership with physicians and surgeons, will continue to reduce wait times, both in the short and long term."

The statement also included statistics outlining improvements in wait times for imaging.

  • Reduction in the average wait time for all CT scans decreasing from 7.1 weeks to 6.1 weeks
  • Reduction in the average wait times for urgent CT scans from 1.3 weeks to less than a week
  • Reduction in the average wait time for all MRIs decreased from 15.6 weeks to 13.7 weeks
  • Reduction in the average wait times for urgent MRI scans decreasing from 4.3 weeks to 2.6 weeks



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