Surgical Wait Times Canada


Surgical Wait Times  Canada


There are two wait lists in Canadian Orthopaedics

By Terry Kane /


Wait List #1

 The wait time to see an orthopaedic surgeon for the first time.

Orthopaedic surgeons depend on information contained in referral letters  in order to determine if you need to be seen by them. 

Even with an abnormal x-ray or MRI, it’s estimated that 75% of Canadians referred to an orthopaedic surgeon by their family physician or an emergency room physician DO NOT require surgery.   

Because 75% of referral letters that surgeons receive may either inappropriate, incomplete or premature, the importance of a well written referral letter cannot be overstated.   You may actually require surgery, but if your referral letter lacks important and necessary information, the surgeon may reject your referral.

Typically, provinces do not track the time from when a surgeon receives a referral letter to when they are seen by a surgeon for the first time.

Your referral letter should contain the following;

  1. Diagnostic imaging reports or investigations performed within the past year.
  2. A letter from a physiotherapist confirming that you’ve executed a supervised exercise program for three months without any functional improvement AND  a statement from your physiotherapist indicating they  believe you warrant a surgical consult.
  3. A list of all non-surgical treatments  that you’ve tried with no success in improving your function.
  4. A list of all medications that you have tried and are taking for your condition.
  5. A statement documenting any changes in body weight  in the past year (for lower limb conditions)
  6. A statement of any medical devices or aids you’re using daily.
  7. A statement of the impact your condition is having on your ability to perform activities of daily living (self care, walking, stairs, activities inside your home, activities outside your home)..
  8. A list of all current medical conditions and medications.


Wait List #2

The wait time between the date your surgeon offers surgery and the date you undergo surgery.

This wait list represents the  time between the date you sign the necessary paperwork agreeing to surgery and the day you actually undergo surgery.

When you look at provincial wait times on the internet, please be aware their wait times typically do not include the wait time (#1) to see a surgeon for the first time, but rather the wait time (#2) between a surgical consult and when the patient undergoes surgery. 

 Example:  You may wait six months to a year on wait list #1  to see a surgeon for the first time  and – if you are offered surgery – you may wait an additional four to six months on wait list #2  before you undergo surgery.

Keep moving after your referral letter is sent to a surgeon. 

  1. By continuing treatments and doing your exercises while you wait to see a surgeon,  you may improve and avoid the need for surgery.  Don’t give up trying! 
  2. Don’t sit around and expect that you will be offered surgery.  A large percentage of patients are not offered surgery, so keep up with current treatments and exercise.


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