Surgery tracker set to launch after bureaucratic delays
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The Stefanson government’s long-awaited online dashboard to track surgical and diagnostic wait times is expected to launch as early as next week. According to sources close to the province’s diagnostic and surgical recovery task force, the dashboard was ready to launch weeks ago, but was delayed by senior health officials.
“It’s just been bouncing around from one government silo to another,” said one source. “It looks like, fingers crossed, it may be ready to go next week.”
The dashboard, which will be available on the task force’s website, will include median wait times for a number of procedures, including hip and knee surgeries, cataract surgery, and diagnostic testing, such as MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds. Unlike existing wait time data on the Manitoba Health website, the dashboard will provide historical figures dating back to 2019, which will allow comparisons with wait times prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will also measure the backlogs that were created during the pandemic, similar to what Doctors Manitoba published on its website until a few months ago.
“We’re trying to make it as user-friendly as possible,” the source said. “This is a starting point, it’s not carved in stone.”
Providing accessible wait time data doesn’t get patients into operating rooms or diagnostic testing centres any faster. But it does hold the government accountable for the billions of dollars a year it spends on health care. It also shows the public how drastically wait times differ between health care facilities. That may allow some patients to request treatment or procedures at facilities with shorter delays.
For example, the median wait time in August for hip and knee surgery at Grace Hospital was 60 weeks. It was 36 weeks at Concordia Hospital. The median wait time for an elective CT scan at Grace Hospital was eight weeks, but only three weeks at St. Boniface Hospital.
The new dashboard will also, hopefully, do a better job of explaining median wait time. There continues to be public confusion about how wait times are measured.
The new dashboard will also, hopefully, do a better job of explaining median wait time. There continues to be public confusion about how wait times are measured. Median wait times are the point at which half of people wait longer for a procedure and half wait less. That explains why some people wait much longer than the posted median wait time.
Unfortunately, the new dashboard will not include 90th percentile wait times, which measure the longest wait time for nine out of 10 patients. That measurement is often used in health care data (in addition to median wait times) to provide the public with a more accurate picture of how long some people wait for treatment. The province’s 2017 wait time reduction task force recommended its use. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority uses both median wait times and the 90th percentile to show how long people wait for care in emergency departments. However, Manitoba Health has never used it to measure surgical and diagnostic wait times (at least not publicly), which means Manitobans don’t get the complete picture.
Meanwhile, the diagnostic and surgical recovery task force has started sending some orthopedic patients out of the province for surgery, as promised over the summer. So far, 16 patients have had surgery in Dryden, Ont. Another 40 are lined up between now and the end of the year. The province signed contracts with clinics in North Dakota, Ohio and northwestern Ontario to provide up to 750 hip and knee surgeries a year to help reduce the pandemic backlog.
With the demand for hip and knee surgeries growing by an estimated five per cent a year, task force members say wait times likely won’t fall until the pandemic backlog is eliminated.
The province estimates it needs to do more than 6,000 hip and knee surgeries a year to clear the backlog. Hospitals have been performing almost 500 procedures per month, on average, between May and August. Still, wait times continue to rise. With the demand for hip and knee surgeries growing by an estimated five per cent a year, task force members say wait times likely won’t fall until the pandemic backlog is eliminated.
What will help is a new operating room slated to open at Concordia Hospital next spring. It has already been delayed once (it was supposed to open by the end of this year). It’s expected to add up to 1,000 hip and knee surgeries per year. With a provincial election scheduled for Oct. 3, 2023, the Stefanson government better hope it doesn’t get delayed again.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.