Orthopedic Wait Time in Canada? What are My Options?

Are you on a waiting list for Orthopedic surgery in Canada? Well, you are not alone. The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) found it would take almost two years for knee surgery, if working at 120 per cent. That is only one province in Canada.

Why is this in a wealthy, publicly funded country like Canada? In Canada, orthopedic patients have to wait for treatment as it is largely a publicly funded system. When Canadians need health care, they first to primary health care services, which are the first point of contact with the health care system. Primary health care serves a dual function. First, it provides direct provision of first-contact health care services, second, it coordinates patients' health care services to ensure continuity of care and ease of movement across the health care system when more specialized services are needed. This is considered a "referral" type of healthcare system.

According to the Canadian Orthopedic Association, Canadian patients must often endure lengthy wait times – sometimes a year or more – before they have their surgery, which can cause physical, emotional, and economic burdens for those patients and their families. We believe Canadians need and deserve timely access to quality orthopaedic care.

The Fraser Institute - Data Collection

The Fraser Institute has been collecting data for over 20 years on the waiting times for specialist visits and procedures across Canada. While COVID-19 has been a significant factor in contributing to wait times in 2020 and 2021, the future trend of waiting for orthopedic surgery looks likely to only increase as backlogged surgeries will take priority post pandemic. For this purpose we have looked at pre-pandemic waiting list for orthopedic surgeries across Canada to get a better perspective of future waiting list times post pandemic.

Median Wait Time in Canada

The median wait time between referral from a general physician and treatment is 20.9 weeks. This is longer than the 19.8 week wait reported in 2018. The wait time this year is just short of the longest in history (21.09 weeks in 2017), and 124% longer than it was in 1993, which was 9.3 weeks.

Median Wait Time Across Provinces

There are many variations in the waiting times of patients across provinces. Ontario had the shortest wait time at 16.0 weeks, while Prince Edward Island has the longest at 49.3 weeks. Referral by a general physician to consultation with specialist. This segment saw a rise in waiting times from 8.7 weeks in 2018 up to 10.1 weeks this year. The wait time for this segment is 173% longer that it was in 1993 (3.7 weeks). Quebec has the shortest wait time for specialist consultations (7.2 weeks), while Prince Edward Island is the longest (28.8 week).

Research repeatedly shows that waiting times for medically required treatmentcan have severe consequences, such as more pain, suffering, or mental anguish. In certain instances, they can also result in poorer medical outcomes--transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities.

Despite considerable cost and increase in budgets, patients in Canada are still waiting too long for medically required treatment.

Will Wait Times Improve?

Post pandemic, the Canadian Healthcare will not improve, at least not in the short to medium term.  This is largely due not to the backlog in surgeries, but also the outdated financial model of lump sum funding that the Canadian Healthcare system still adopts. According to the Fraser Health institute, Canada remains one of the few remaining countries that has not adopted a money following patient system. Money following patients turns lump sum payment on its head, shifting patients from cost centres and a drain on the budget to a source of additional financial resources for the hospital, and creating powerful incentives for providers to increase throughput, improve efficiency, and improve the patient-centeredness of the services provided.

What Medical Travel Options Do I have?

If you are in pain and need orthopedic treatment sooner than later, we can assist you with this.  While you do not need a referral we do recommend you let your general practioner or general medical doctor know that you are considering medical travel abroad.  The first step would be to make an inquiry, and we can set up a teleconsultation with a top orthopedic surgeon abroad who can assess your case and provide a recommended treatment plan - which may include surgery abroad. Life is worth living, and living in pain is not moving forward. We are here to assist you in your inquiries, so please reach out at anytime.

Leave a Comment