Science

Hip, knee and cataract waits shorter: report

Most provinces have improved wait times in at least one of five priority areas since 2005 but there's room for improvement, according to a report released on Thursday.

Waits for CT and MRI scans increased in some provinces

Most provinces have shortened wait times in at least one of five priority areas since 2005 but there's room for improvement, according to a report released on Thursday.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information's report, Wait Times Tables — A Comparison by Province, offers the first direct comparisons between provinces, said Helen Angus, the institute's vice-president of research.

"There's clearly room for improvement and yet there's progress," Angus said, crediting the provinces for actively working on reducing wait times.

"But there are still some areas where we'd like to see more Canadians seen within the targets."

The five benchmarks that health ministers agreed to in 2005 were: hip replacements, knee replacements, cataract surgery, coronary bypass surgery and diagnostic imaging.

'Hard to cope'

While 75 per cent of patients received a hip replacement within the 26-week benchmark in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, waits for knee replacements were longer, the analysis showed.

Three provinces, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario, said over 75 per cent of knee replacement patients received their surgery within the recommended 26 weeks.

People waiting for knee replacements say the constant pain adds to the burden of waiting.

Kimberley Sullivan, 49, of Truro, N.S., hurt her knee as a teenager playing basketball and developed arthritis.

Sullivan went on a waiting list for a knee replacement more than 18 months ago after the joint started to deteriorate following arthroscopic surgery about 11 years ago.

"It does seem like a very long time when you're in pain," Sullivan said. "I'm sort of reaching the point where it's hard to cope."

Diagnostic imaging problems

While the number of MRI and CT scanners and exams has increased since 2004, this hasn't always led to shorter waits.

Waits increased by 10 per cent for CT tests from the first year in Nova Scotia, and decreased in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, the only other provinces reporting on the tests.

For MRIs, waits also increased by 10 per cent in Manitoba, but went down in Ontario and Alberta.

Diagnostic imaging is perhaps a "little more problematic," perhaps because of the multiple ways that patients may be referred for the tests, Angus said.

In terms of progress, eight out of 10 provinces have at least 79 per cent of patients receiving cancer treatment within 28 days.

"I think back to 2001 and the fact that cancer patients were going to border cities to get radiation treatment —- that's a substantial improvement," Angus said.

Critics have suggested that the wait time clock should start when patients are trying to get an appointment. 

"I think access is an important dimension of quality," Angus said.

"Someday in the future maybe we'll be able to do that more comprehensively."

Between 90 per cent to 100 per cent of coronary bypass surgeries were carried out within 26 weeks, excluding emergency cases, the report said.

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With files from Canadian Press

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