The most urgent post-COVID medical crisis could be our chronic one: Wait-times.

 In English, News

In BC, it could take two years to catch up on surgery backlogs created when elective surgery was halted in March because of the pandemic.

There, some 30,000 surgeries were either postponed or simply not scheduled at all – on top of the 63,000 patients already waiting. Close to 15,000 patients have been waiting more than twice as long as medically advisable.

This does not mean there will be a two-year wait for surgery. It means two years on top of the existing wait-time for surgery. In BC before the pandemic, the wait time for ACL repair surgery was 21 months, for shoulder surgery was 15 months and for prostrate surgery was 12 months.

Of course, what’s happening in BC is happening in every province, and every nation, for that matter. This is a predictable tragedy of global scale. Already, patients are dying because their cancer wasn’t operated on quickly enough. The quality of life and health of literally millions of people around the world has plummeted.

As a recent report from Alberta Health Services put it, a prolonged reduction in surgeries is “detrimental and devastating …. This can and will create a potential ‘epidemic within a pandemic’.”

But because the Achilles Heel of Canada’s “free”, single-payor healthcare system is too-long wait-times, all the progress our system has made in reducing them will be wiped out.

The BC Government said back in May that they would have to find $250 million in new funding for increased staffing to chip away at the cascading numbers.

But as with everything around the Coronavirus, it’s complicated – and always changing. If you open up too soon with elective surgery, you may have to shut down, which happened with Edmonton’s Misericordia Hospital last week. It’s no longer accepting new patients of any kind because of an outbreak of COVID-19 at the hospital

When the pandemic first hit, we all accepted the idea of a broad-brush approach – “Shut down everything now!”  But the unintended consequence of that will hurt all of us badly in the coming months.

If ever there was proof that our system needs a more tailored approach to patient care, it’s here and now.

Our business was founded on the idea that our health care systems doesn’t suffer so much from a lack of money, but a lack of matching. A good part of the huge delays that patients endure comes from a lack of centralized information that people can access, and a lack of guides to help patients navigate our hugely complex health care system.

Our own clients access treatment 220 days sooner on average than Canadians in general; they’re on disability 6 months less; and their employers recognize a 420% return on investment because they’re absence related payroll spend is less.

Today, when wait-times have never been longer in Canada, the need for new thinking around the role of patient navigation is sorely needed.

There is a much better way.

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