“Smart” system promises shorter treatment wait times for Ontarians

An innovative Wait Times Information Technology System or WTIS is helping Ontario’s healthcare providers use electronic data tracking to prioritize patients and procedures.

The expected result: reduced wait times, especially for those in need of critical treatment.

Introduced by Cancer Care Ontario, in partnership with Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA) – an Ontario Ministry of Health Agency – the new system measures and reports wait time across Ontario for a growing number of services, including cancer surgery, cardiac procedures, hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery as well as MRI and CT exams.

According to SSHA, the system can keep wait lists down by electronically tracking and categorizing data by services. This capability allows services to be scheduled more efficiently, saving both doctor and patient time.

By checking the detailed wait list – posted and regularly updated on the Web site www.health.gov.on.ca under the Wait Times in Ontario tab – patients can see how long they will have to wait at specific locations for the service that they require. By giving patients and their families access to this information the system gives them more options and helps hospitals better allocate their resources.

The new tool is already benefiting patients, according to Donna Czukar, director, cancer information and support at the Canadian Cancer Society (Ontario division).  

She says wait times is an issue a lots of folk have questions about.  “Now we can refer them to this tool. It helps people make their own decisions and build their confidence in the [health care] system.”

For cancer patients, for whom time is of the essence, the more information available the better, says Czukar. It’s empowering because it helps by giving them choices.

 “Once they find they need to go somewhere else for treatment, for example, they might have questions on where to stay [for instance],” she says, “Transparency is always important in health care.”

In April this year the Ontario government announced that reducing wait times in emergency departments and improving access to family health care would be the its two most important health priorities over the next four years. 

The new system – many hope – will help in achieving this objective.

But not everyone is convinced WTIS has all the answers.

“No matter what technology is brought in, I don’t believe it will resolve the problem of a lack of resources to treat cancer and other medical conditions,” says Dr. Douglas Mark, president of the Coalition of Family Physicians of Ontario.

He says the problem starts with the fact that family physicians must refer patients to hospitals – a requirement that causes the initial delay – and the resulting frustration for patients as well as doctors.

Dr. Mark said this procedural issue posed a huge problem.

“Our nightmare – as family doctors – is just trying to get patients to specialists, hospitals, or other programs.  [It’s a] very frustrating everyday problem…and one of the things driving us out of our profession.”

The IT infrastructure provided by Smart Systems plays a big part in keeping the WTIS system operational and effective, says Paul Kilbertus, director of external communications at SSHA.

“We provide the connectivity for information sharing and host the enterprise master patient index (EMPI),” said Kilbertus. 

“Our role is two fold,” said Kilbertus, “We host the back end system and the enterprise master patient index (EMPI).”

Cancer Care Ontario is currently using EMPI “to identify patients, some of whom have multiple [identification numbers] from different hospitals.”  

This essential function allows patients to be pinpointed, even if they have different identifiers at various hospitals where they’ve received care.

Earlier this year SSHA assumed full responsibility for this client registry project and the business processes that support it.

“[Our] second role is providing connectivity between surgeons in their offices, hospitals and the ‘wait times’ application,” Kilbertus said.

He said SSHA provides is a secure network for health care so that patient information can be shared securely and reliably.   

“EMPI is still a work in progress. We’re still adding hospitals.”

Currently there are 50 million patient identification records and WTIS has been implemented in 82 Ontario hospitals.  There are plans to enhance the system to incorporate all surgical procedures in Ontario.

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