Surgical Wait Times


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.


In addition to x-rays, orthopaedic surgeons depend on information in referral letters (for elective surgery)  in order to answer one  question - "Does the letter from your healthcare professional state that you've exhausted all non-surgical treatment options, including daily exercises for a minimum of three to six months without any reduction in your pain or any improvement in your range of motion, strength or function?"

Even with the worst looking x-ray or MRI, if your letter does not clearly answer this question, you referral letter may be rejected.

Canadian surgeons are among the most highly trained and skilled in the world but, despite their training, even the smallest surgery can leave patients worse off than they were before surgery.  

"There is no joint that I can't make worse through surgery. There are no guarantees in surgery." - anon Orthopaedic Surgeon.

Surgeons aren't trying to be cruel but - because of the risks -  they want to know that you've exhausted all other treatment options and are medically healthy enough to undergo surgery.   In addition, you'll need to sign legal documents  acknowledging and accepting the risks of surgery (granting informed consent to proceed to surgery).

Just because you're accepted to see a surgeon does not mean that you will offered surgery at your appointment. Only after a surgeon has physically examined you in their office can they determine if you would benefit from surgery and when.

Bottom line - Keep Moving! Just because you're on a wait list to see a surgeon does not mean you can't improve while you wait and avoid the need for surgery altogether.   Do not sit around and expect that you will be offered surgery. You are encouraged to continue  treatments that reduce your pain and to do your rehab exercise everyday.


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.

 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.

According to  Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute data (2019), approximately 50% of Albertans seeking a hip or knee replacement and, who are accepted for an initial appointment with a surgeon,  are waiting over six months to be seen (Wait List #1) .  If a patient is offered a hip or knee replacement, 43.5% of Albertans are waiting over six months to undergo surgery (Wait List #2).


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