Task force tries to boost interest in out-of-province joint surgeries
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Manitobans waiting for hip and knee replacements can expect a personal invitation for an all-expenses paid trip to a hospital in Ontario or the United States to arrive in their mail box.
The province’s diagnostic and surgical recovery task force will send letters to hundreds of people on lengthy wait-lists to encourage them to sign up for its voluntary, out-of-province orthopedic surgery program.
The direct appeal for people to pack their belongings and travel to Fargo, North Dakota; Cleveland, Ohio; or communities in northwest Ontario is necessary because fewer than 60 people have made the trek since the program was announced in August.
The task force had contracted surgeries for as many as 225 people to receive hip and knee replacements in the United States this calendar year. Its agreement with clinics in Ontario was expected to grow to 300 procedures a year.
To date, 13 people have received surgery in at Sanford Health in North Dakota and one person has received surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Forty people have received surgery in Kenora and Dryden, Ont., through Big Thunder Orthopedic Associates.
Provincial task force director David Matear attributed the lower-than-expected number of patients to a lack of public awareness.
“What we need to do is to make sure that they’re fully aware of the options available to them so that then they can make their minds up as to what kind of care options they’d like to consider,” Matear said.
“We’re trying hard to have those messages on the web, through media, but whether that’s actually reaching everyone that we want to hear the message, we don’t know.”
Patients must be referred to the program by their surgeon, or sign up directly on the provincial government website. Patients must also meet strict health criteria to qualify.
As of Wednesday, 140 people had signed up and were waiting their turn for out-0f-province procedures, including 50 people in need of spinal surgery. Earlier this year, the task force inked a contract with Sanford Health to perform spinal procedures for Manitobans; 86 have been performed to date.
Matear said the task force wants all people waiting — regardless of their position on the wait-list — to be aware of their options.
Manitobans approved for surgery have their travel and expenses covered and co-ordinated by the government. According to the task force, the wait-list for hips and knees included 3,023 people as of October 2022, with a monthly median wait time of 25 and 37 weeks, respectively.
The direct appeal to patients is not intended to bypass referring physicians but to take the administrative burden of contacting each patient off of doctors’ offices, Matear said.
The task force is consulting with surgeons on the outreach effort, providing a pre- and post-operative assessment clinic to manage workloads, and offering fair compensation for referring physicians, Matear said.
“We want everyone to be on board,” he said.
Matear said more patients are expected to head out-of-province in the new year as pilot projects conclude. Surgical slates are in the process of being reserved for the last quarter of 2023, he noted.
Keir Johnson, spokesman for advocacy group Doctors Manitoba, said the slow program start could also be a function of narrow eligibility criteria and the demands of travelling hundreds of kilometres.
“It certainly has been promoted widely by the province from what we have seen,” Johnson said in a statement.
“If uptake is lower than they planned for, it may not be completely unexpected as out-of-province travel can be difficult for patients generally, and especially for those waiting for joint replacements who may be experiencing mobility issues or in constant pain.”
Johnson reiterated the organization’s position that out-of-province surgery should be a short-term, temporary option to reduce backlogs.
“The primary focus should be on adding capacity right here in Manitoba,” he said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.