Better management, accountability improves access for patients
Grace De Jong's breast cancer was successfully treated by lumpectomy in 1999, but recently she began experiencing new symptoms. "I was having terrible headaches and was just not feeling well. I thought maybe I had another tumour (and) wanted to have that ruled out. So my doctor suggested I see a neurologist."
At the neurologist's office, Ms. De Jong discovered she would have to wait three months for a CAT scan at a hospital close to her home in Guelph. On her own, she checked the www.ontariowaittimes.ca website and found that wait times at McMaster University Medical Centre were just nine days. "We went to my doctor and she made the appointment – instead of having to wait three months, I got in there within a week!"
Ms. De Jong had had a small stroke and is now on medication to help prevent further problems. Chalk up another victory for the Wait Times Information System (WTIS).
Sarah Kramer, lead for Ontario's Wait Time Information Management Strategy and vice president and chief information officer at Cancer Care Ontario, describes WTIS as "a web–based tool in the doctor's office. It's a single provincial application that provides a standardized way to measure, report and manage wait lists for certain types of surgery and diagnostic imaging."
In 2004, reducing wait times for key health services became one of the Ontario government's top priorities and an important component of its strategy to transform the province's health system. The government was responding to the concerns of almost 75 per cent of citizens who, pollsters said, believed waiting lists were a problem in their communities. Forty per cent of Ontarians weren't confident that services for serious medical problems would be available if needed.
Health care providers were also concerned, but because no monitoring system existed, nobody really knew how long treatments were delayed. Ontario's WTIS addressed this gap by improving access to health care services and reducing wait times in five priority areas: cancer surgery, selected cardiac procedures, cataract surgery, hip and knee replacements and diagnostic imaging (CAT scans or MRIs). It's been a resounding success. (View the results at www.ontariowaittimes.ca.)
The system now links 81 hospitals, over 1,700 surgeons' offices, and oversees nearly 250,000 patient interactions each year, according to Ms. Kramer. "Surgeons' offices are now connected to the Internet. They use this system every day. The Premier, Health Minister, their staff and other decision–makers look at this data and can identify and work with hospitals to correct problems in near real time. The media also notices when there's a problem in the latest month's performance. That sort of accountability and performance management approach is a real shift in health care."
Ms. Kramer's next challenge will be expanding beyond the original priority areas so that all provincial surgeries are covered.
Ms. De Jong knows WTIS worked for her. She advises those who may be waiting for care, "I wholeheartedly recommend that people go to www.ontariowaittimes.ca. You'll find a wealth of information."