There are two categories of orthopaedic wait lists in Canada.
#1 – Wait-time to see a surgeon for an initial assessment.
The first wait time is from the moment a surgeon receives a referral letter from your physician to the date of an initial appointment. Provincial health authorities typically do not report the first wait time because this wait time depends on an individual surgeon’s office schedule and number of referrals. The appointment date and time of your initial appointment will be communicated by the surgeon in a letter to both your physician and yourself.
Please be aware that many patients referred to a surgeon by a family physician are not offered an appointment with a surgeon. This isn’t personal, but rather based on information in your referral letter that suggests other non-surgical treatments have not been tried and therefore should be explored before seeing a surgeon.
Research at the University of British Columbia found that experienced orthopaedic physiotherapists were 4x better at identifying patients requiring surgery than family physicians and emergency room physicians.
Every year there is more and more published evidence supporting that seeing a experienced orthopaedic surgeon and performing a home based rehab exercise program for a minimum three months can improve a patient’s function to the point they don’t require surgery.
Because serious and permanent complications can result during or after any kind surgery, it is always considered the very last resort. For this reason, if your referral letter from your physician did not include a letter from your physiotherapist indicating they support a surgical consult, you can expect you will not be offered an appointment and instructed to see a physiotherapist instead.
#2 – Wait-time to when you actually undergo surgery.
The second wait time is from the date your surgeon offers you surgery in their office to the date you undergo surgery.
Please be aware that surgeons are dependent on the availability of operating rooms in order to perform surgery. With COVID-19, operating rooms in many hospitals across Canada have been closed and consequently surgeons have a significant backlog of patients waiting for surgery. As hospitals open operating rooms, surgeons will be able to return to work.
Provincial health authorities record and report this wait time by one or more of the following; name of the surgical procedure. hospital, health region, the name of the surgeon. When reading tables, look for drop down menus that allow you to sort wait-times by surgeon name, hospital or health region.
Terry Kane, Registered Physiotherapist (Calgary, Alberta)
Founder | Owner, OrthopaedicsCanada.com