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System Performance

Questions and Answers on Wait Times


What is a wait time?

A wait time is the amount of time a patient has to wait for either their first appointment with a surgeon or specialist or for their procedure.

Why is it important to publicly report wait times?

Wait times are an important measure of how quickly you can get access to care. Having this information can help you make better-informed decisions about your health and could be used to discuss treatment options with your physician.

Why do some hospitals report their wait times while others do not?

Hospitals that do not perform certain procedures will not have wait times for those procedures. Additionally, a hospital may be reported as having no data for a specific type of surgery if they did not perform a significant volume of that procedure in the reporting period.

What is a wait list?

A wait list is a list of people who are waiting for special medical procedure, such as surgery. They are waiting because the number of people who need the treatment is greater than the number of appointments, doctors or equipment available to provide that treatment in their area.

A wait list helps prioritize patient care. A patient whose illness is life threatening will be treated before patients with a less serious illness, for example emergency patients will be treated as quickly as possible.

Some examples of treatments for which there are wait lists include:

  • Cardiac (heart) surgery
  • Hip and knee replacements
  • Special procedures such as MRIs
  • Cataract surgery

Is there one wait list for all patients in Ontario?

No, each surgeon or specialist and facility has a list of patients who need treatment. Some procedures may also have different wait lists, such as for hip and knee replacement surgery, in some regions.

Some regions are using innovative approaches to help reduce wait times and ensure that patients are receiving faster access to the right care. For example, some regions have a Central Intake and Assessment Centre to organize referrals for patients experiencing hip and knee problems so they can get timely access to a specialist.

Who goes on a wait list?

Except in the case of an emergency, anyone who needs a treatment for which many other patients are also waiting is placed on a wait list. Emergency patients are treated as quickly as possible.

How long will I wait?

How long you wait depends on:

  • How serious your illness is. Patients with life-threatening illnesses will be treated as quickly as possible; others may wait longer if the hospital’s resources are needed to treat more urgent cases. Your “priority level” is based on a clinical assessment by a physician specialist and ensures that the most urgent cases have faster access, and that patient with less urgent needs wait for a clinically appropriate time.
  • How many other patients your specialist has to treat, and how many other people in your community need the same treatment
  • How your facility or treatment centre schedules patient treatment. Schedules will depend on the facility’s staff, equipment and number of beds, among other variables.

If I have a long wait time, what can I do?

  • You can ask to see another specialist who has a shorter wait time.
  • You can ask to go to another facility, where you might be treated sooner.
  • You can make yourself available for treatment on short notice if an opening becomes available.

You can discuss these options with your primary care provider. If your condition changes while you are waiting for treatment, let your surgeon or specialist know. Your surgeon or specialist can re-assess your illness and decide if waiting for treatment will affect your health.

Why do some specialists have longer wait times?

Surgeon or specialists wait times vary based on a number of factors:

  • The amount of referrals received from primary care.
  • They have more complicated cases (which can mean procedures are more lengthy to complete) to treat.
  • They may have practiced longer than other physicians in a community and be more well-known.

All clinicians working in the province of Ontario are required to meet the same Ontario standards of training when:

  • The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (the body that regulates the practice of medicine in Ontario) licenses him or her to practice medicine in Ontario
  • A facility makes the surgeon or specialist a staff member, allowing him or her to treat patients at that facility.

How can I talk to my surgeon or specialist about wait times?

You may want to discuss several topics with your surgeon or specialist relating to your wait times for surgery or procedure, such as:

  1. How did you determine my priority level?
  2. What is the clinically appropriate timeframe for this surgery or procedure?
  3. What are your wait times for this surgery?
  4. Why are your wait times longer than the expected maximum access target? (if your surgeon's wait times are longer than the access target)

You could also ask your primary care provider about expected wait times for other surgeons/specialists in your region, or outside of your region.

How current is the data?

Surgery wait time data is reported in near real-time by surgeons to the Wait Time Information System in Ontario. On a monthly basis, this information is organized, reviewed for quality and provided to Health Quality Ontario to include on its public website. Health Quality Ontario updates the wait time data on its website monthly for the majority of surgery and procedures. For more information, visit here.

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