Addressing Healthcare Wait Times

Even if you’ve not had first-hand experience, chances are you know someone who has needed specialized medical care – like back surgery or a hip replacement – and has had to wait weeks for an appointment with the right specialist and even longer for elective surgery.

Without question, one of the biggest healthcare issues we face as Canadians is wait times. According to a 13-country survey released by the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation last year, blog-wait times 1Canada has the longest elective surgery waiting times, with 25 per cent of patients waiting more than four months. In addition to the toll on quality of life, the healthcare costs associated with wait times is significant: a conservative $1.08 billion, according to a Fraser Institute study entitled “The Private Cost of Public Queues” that was published in June, 2012.

As a physician and a self-described technophile, I have a unique vantage point on this troubling reality.

On the one hand, what I hear consistently from my medical specialist colleagues is that a large number of the patient referrals they see are, in fact, people who do not require their care. For every appointment they spend with a patient they do not need to treat, there is someone who does need their care waiting unnecessarily.

On the other hand, the root of this issue is due in large part to technology – or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Many doctors still rely on outdated paper-based methods to refer patients. blog-wait times 2That means specialists are processing pieces of paper faxes with incomplete information, rather than reviewing patient files with discrete data.  The exchange of real data allows specialists to specify the information they require and ensure that it is there before the patient arrives. It also ensures the consultation is appropriate and not a waste of precious resources.

When specialists have electronic access to patient information at their fingertips, this can change. In March, TELUS Health acquired its fourth electronic medical records (EMR) provider – Med Access Inc., based in Kelowna, British Columbia. The Med Access EMR has an industry-leading eReferral capability that lets healthcare teams electronically forward any information in a patient’s chart directly and securely to the next care provider.

That’s excellent news for those specialists who are among the 12,500 physicians using a TELUS Health EMR solution in Canada. They will be able to immediately view a patient’s chart and determine – prior to booking an appointment – whether they are the right physician to address a particular patient’s needs.

It’s also an important step toward minimizing wait times for patients, as they will have better assurance of seeing the right specialist in a timelier manner.