The ongoing focus of governments (and the public) to reduce wait times to an acceptable standard in health systems has left healthcare executives with a significant challenge – to get the wait down. The question is where to start. The answer lies in understanding what the current wait times are and the contributing factor; then incrementally reducing actual wait times towards an acceptable target by aggressively managing the performance of healthcare providers and creating greater transparency of the actual results.
Heavy wait times nearly always present with underlying issues that point to the health system’s state of productivity and design. Establishing ways to collect the data needed to determine what the wait times are for various health services becomes a key strategy of system change that healthcare executives must plan for. Just as a weigh scale becomes the tool that measures body weight – a general indicator for individual health – so does an information management system become the tool that provides the wait time data that gives the executive a glimpse of the relative fitness of the overall health system.
What to Measure?
The conventional measure of wait times in a health system depends on the aspect of the patient journey being focused on. For example, a surgical wait time has traditionally been defined as the time the decision to operate is made to the date of the actual surgical intervention. For long-term care placements, the wait time commences when a patient is deemed “ALC (Alternative Level of Care)” within a hospital and the assessment for long-term care placement initiated. Despite efforts to better quantify these wait times, many methods used to collect this information are manual or at best, a combination of manual and electronic means and entail capturing the data after the fact.
It is the individual stages of the patient journey that are critical in contributing to an overall wait time. Perhaps more appropriately, it is these buried waiting times that are the underlying indicators of a system’s overall health. Measuring wait times for referral, assessment, and access to diagnostics (the services which many more patients within a health system actually receive), time for review of patient referral is the key to getting a handle on system health. Knowing how long a patient waits from the point of referral to treatment better reflects the actual experience and provides the healthcare executive an understanding of where critical problems exist.
Once these wait times are pinpointed and measured against benchmarks or standards, corresponding workflows and system processes that create the wait times can be assessed for inefficiencies, then treated. Real-time information and data, quickly accessible to health system leaders through eRefferal systems, is at the core of any administered treatment plan. It informs on where to lighten workloads, address staff shortages, stop system bleeds, or reduce the swell of scheduling bumps and return the organization to good health.