Clearly the goal of the health care system is to provide the best patient care with the best results. Having said that, the long wait times experienced today are counterproductive to that objective. When you are ill or in pain you are in no condition to believe that “Good things come to him who waits.”
On the contrary, there is nothing more upsetting or exasperating than having to wait for treatment. Today too many patients endure long wait times for health services. Not only does this raise patient anxiety, it causes us all to question the state of our health care system. Unfortunately there isn’t only one cause for longer wait times and there definitely isn’t one simple answer for reducing them. Reducing wait times is going to require system-wide improvements.
Here are some of the causes contributing to longer wait times:
- Services are inefficient and lacking organization. The resulting bottlenecks slow down the system. Failed coordination and inadequate planning cause backups. Services and surgeries are delayed or postponed.
- Availability of health care professionals. – If patients find it is difficult to see a doctor quickly (or at all) they turn to emergency rooms (ERs), thus extending wait times in ERs. Every health care worker is integral to the system. A shortage anywhere creates a domino effect throughout the system.
- Physicians don’t work in cross-functioning information teams. – Most doctors’ offices work alone. A single patient working through multi-doctor referrals finds that all appointments and procedures leading up to surgery are managed individually, leading to delays and inefficiencies all along the way.
- Long-term care and home care are underfunded. – This results in increased hospitalization that could be prevented or avoided and adds pressure on emergency rooms.
- Positive solutions cause negative wait results. Today more people can benefit from improved medical procedures that would not have been undertaken in the past. This adds to the line ups for surgeries.
To reduce wait times, we need to consider important system wide improvements in our health care system. The following are some that have been tried successfully across Canada and the US.
- Identify and fund effective solutions. Projects that have successfully reduced waiting times in public hospitals and clinics need to be enacted on a more widespread basis. It’s time to move beyond isolated pilot projects.
- Prioritize patients before profits and cost savings. Actively seeking the best administrative and clinical practices to provide the best patient experience correspondingly results in decreased wait times.
- Better health starts at home. By putting resources into long-term care, community care, home care and home support, it is possible to keep people healthier and out of hospital and thus relieve the pressure on hospital beds.
- Timely access to family health care. When patients can get timely access to family health care teams, through community clinics and urgent care centres, the wait time in ERs drops dramatically.
- Better logistical coordination. Staggering start-time for surgery and standardizing surgical equipment and procedures including pre-screening and testing has been shown to reduce wait times and has simultaneously seen the number of surgeries completed .
- Modernizing electronic information systems is key. When everyone in the health care team has timely access to accurate and up-to-date patient information, there is no unnecessary waiting for patient records.
Health IT Provides Data and Solutions
In many areas of life, information is the key to success and this is no different in the providing of health care. From access to care and patient engagement, through the logistics and ultimately to the development of health care reform adoption of health IT is the critical first step.
Health Information Exchange (HIE) is the most rapidly advancing tool for secure access to and electronic exchange of complete health records. These complete records are no longer merely an option but rather an absolutely necessity. Today’s HIE is a must. It is revolutionizing how information is coordinated, how effective collaboration takes place between patient care teams. This much improved collaborative electronic exchange of health information not only reduces costs, duplication and errors in medical interventions but also provides benefits in the flow of patient care.
Through the use of an intelligent eRefferral solution health jurisdictions can profoundly leverage the value of the HIE by actively enabling complete referrals to the most appropriate downstream service provider(s) that can meet the patient’s unique clinical needs and preference – all in real time.