EDMONTON — The Alberta government put waiting times for selected medical procedures on-line yesterday to allow potential patients to shop around for timely treatment.
The Web site shows average waiting times in 15 hospitals around the province for 18 operations and treatments, including MRIs, hip replacements, cardiac surgery, chemotherapy and cataract surgery.
“It’s all about choices, and people need information in order to make choices,” said Alberta Health Minister Gary Mar, who encouraged patients to use the Web site to browse for physicians and treatments outside their communities if they want shorter queues.
The Mazankowski health-care report, released almost two years ago, recommends setting up the Web site, which cost $1.5-million. B.C. has a similar on-line list.
The Alberta site indicates that patients wait about 37 weeks to get an MRI at Edmonton’s Misericordia Community Hospital but eight weeks at Red Deer Regional Hospital. For hip replacements, the longest average wait is 54 weeks at Lethbridge Regional Hospital; the shortest is 18 weeks at Calgary’s Foothills Provincial General Hospital.
Avalon Roberts, chairwoman of the Alberta lobby group Friends of Medicare, supports the registry but said the government must explain why waiting times vary so much — even within the same city. “It actually brings up more questions than answers.”
New Democrat Leader Raj Pannu said the government should shorten waiting lists now that Albertans will know the inequality of access to treatment.
“I wish, in addition to putting this information on-line, the government would set some benchmarks that if the waiting time is more than eight weeks or 10 weeks, then that’s an indicator of a need for urgent action to reduce that.”
Kevin Taft, the Alberta Liberals’ health critic, is concerned that the site is a “gimmick” that will do little to improve health care.
“I just don’t see this making much difference to waiting lists. I’d rather they put the $1-million into shortening lists instead of telling people how long the lists are.”
Mr. Mar said the move is not designed to harmonize waiting times across the province, something that he said likely would be impossible. “It’s quite likely that there may be some doctors who, because of their reputation, people are willing to wait much longer to have their service done by that doctor.”
The site defines waiting lists as the time within which 90 per cent of patients had the procedure performed in the past three months.
The registry includes information from 407 physicians in 15 hospitals that submitted the information as of Aug. 31. The government expects the other 23 facilities not included to be on-line by next spring.
The site, supported by the Alberta Medical Association, shows the number of people waiting for procedures at given hospitals. It indicates waiting times for doctors and classifies them using three priority levels for patients and outpatients. Their privacy is protected.
The information is compiled by the Health Ministry from monthly data submitted by hospitals and diagnostic clinics that perform more than 200 procedures a year. They collect information from doctors and other health workers.
The site, http://www.health.gov.ab.ca, emphasizes that people who need emergency surgery or treatment receive it without delay. They are not entered on a waiting list.