Monday, December 19, 2005

Good News in Health Care

I'm tempted to just make this lead from the entire post:

Patients who normally would have waited an average of 47 weeks for an orthopedic consultation were treated in under five weeks.

But it doesn't tell you the how of the this story from Alberta, and the how makes all the difference. For years we have been pounded (especially by Albertans) with the message that efficiency can only be reached through competition between free-enterprise health providers. Public health care is a doomed, bureaucratic mess and will never be redeemed.

Well, kiss my ass, capitalism. It turns out that focussed efforts by people who understood the problem worked, and incredibly fast.

The Edmonton Journal reports that several factors were key to the improvements. The number of surgeries performed in each operating room was raised to three or four, instead of just one or two.

As well, surgeons worked with a team of nurses and physical therapists to move patients through the system quickly and get high-priority cases done first.

Alberta's Health Department contributed $20 million, mainly for additional staff and operating rooms. The speedier surgeries did not result in other health services being delayed or cancelled.

When the project was announced last year the health system was disconnected, with "silos" of services – like diagnostics and orthopedic surgery – being designed around that particular service, rather than around the patient.


The average wait times seen within the pilot project are even lower than the new national standards announced by provincial and federal health ministers last week.

By creating a flow-through process based on what the patients needed, the care got faster. I know a lot of people who have waited around for various surgeries, ranging from cancer to joint problems, and it's always a story of lurching from your GP to a specialist, to a variety of waiting lists. With this program, everything needed for a specific problem is hived off, and you just jump from diagnosis to imaging to surgery on a quick little timetable. That diagnosis-imaging-treatment series can easily be applied to many other procedures too, no doubt.

Good news all around, no matter what kind of health care you want.

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