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Wait times

Alberta invests $54 million to reduce wait times

EDMONTON – The government of Alberta has announced an investment of $54 million in new projects that will improve access to healthcare and reduce wait times for a range of procedures.

Of these funds, $12 million will be used to sustain the hip and knee replacement project, currently being piloted by three health regions.

The bulk of the funds, $42 million, will support the development of innovative models of care for health services, such as cardiac care, breast and prostate cancer care, as well as the provincial rollout of knowledge-transfer from the new hip and knee model of care.

“The early success of the Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project in reducing wait times and improving quality of care for Albertans demonstrates the incredible value of our initial investment,” said Iris Evans, Minister of Health and Wellness. “This new funding underscores our commitment to supporting innovative and sustainable advances in public healthcare delivery. I look forward to seeing similar improvements in other areas of care.”

The new projects will build on the success of the Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project. While the formal evaluation of the hip and knee project won’t be complete until July, the project has shown many early signs of success. A December report shows patients had significantly reduced wait times, spent less time in the hospital and had a faster recovery.

Launched in 2005, the hip and knee project set up central clinics to assess patients for hip and knee replacement surgery, streamlining the referral process.

It also set up a process for those patients requiring surgery to be cared for by a physician in advance of, and following, surgery. Under the project, the province provided funding to support an additional 1,200 hip and knee surgeries, including enhanced hospital and sub-acute care services. Today, all of these patients have been accepted into the project with the final surgeries scheduled to be complete in April 2006.

Alberta has also been working with physicians, health authorities and professional bodies to establish appropriate wait times and to improve the way care is delivered to meet those wait times for a number of services. The first project to demonstrate the effectiveness of these care path changes is the Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project.

How Alberta is improving access:

Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project

The Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project’s innovative new model of care was in development for more than two years before its launch in April 2005. The project is led by orthopedic surgeons working closely with health region and ministry staff.

By centralizing the appointment booking function, patients are referred to the most appropriate surgeon with the shortest wait list.

The shared-care model sees primary care physicians more involved in preparing patients for surgery and caring for them after surgery. In addition, patients are centrally assessed, using standardized criteria to determine suitability for surgery, to ensure that patients who can benefit from surgery are appropriately referred and those that don’t require surgery are referred for appropriate care.

The interim report of the Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project released in December 2005 found wait time reductions of 85 percent for orthopedic consultations and 90 percent for surgery. The report also noted a 30 percent reduction in hospital stay and overall faster recovery for patients.

The Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project is a collaboration between the Alberta government, Capital, Calgary and David Thompson health regions, the Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute, the Alberta Medical Association and the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The pilot involves:

• Three cities – Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary

• 13 orthopedic surgeons

• One assessment intake clinic in each city

• Surgical sites in each city

In 2002, Alberta Health and Wellness established the Access Standards Working Group in response to the Premier’s Advisory Council on Health report recommendation of a guarantee of access to selected health services. Orthopedic services were one of those identified by the working group.

Improving access in other areas of care:

In December 2005, Alberta, along with all the territories and provinces, announced access benchmarks agreed to as part of the 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care, which was reached by First Ministers in September 2004.

For the first time ever, Canadians have a common set of benchmarks for selected health services, including radiation therapy for cancers, coronary bypass surgery and cataract surgery.

Reducing wait times is a complex task and benchmarks by themselves are not a cure. Other important changes are required to enhance access to care, such as using information technology to collect data on wait times and using consistent ways to assess the needs of patients.

Alberta is one of the few provinces with a public website for publishing wait imes, numbers of people waiting and volumes of surgeries, MRI and CT scans completed.

Alberta has been working with physicians, health authorities and professional bodies to establish appropriate wait times and to improve the way care is delivered to meet those wait times for a number of other services.

Following are a few of the areas Alberta is focused on improving access through established access committees:

Cardiac Services

Wait time goals for coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) and angioplasty have been established. However, these are the end points in the patient’s journey from symptoms through diagnosis and treatments. Patients face waits at all points along the care continuum.

To identify the barriers and innovative solutions to improve access to cardiac services, the Cardiac Services committee is developing a three-year plan aimed at improving access along the full patient care path.


A multidisciplinary team led by Capital Health and the Alberta Cancer Board is planning a new care path demonstration project for breast cancer in 2006.

The Prostate committee is working with urologists in Calgary to develop an improved comprehensive care path. Today, a Rapid Access Clinic has decreased wait times for specialist consultation from several months to between two and three weeks.

Children’s Mental Health

Alberta is the first province to begin tracking wait times for children accessing mental health services.

The Children’s Mental Health committee is now drafting wait time goals.