BACKGROUND: Delays in access to health care in Canada have been reported, but standardized systems to manage and monitor wait lists and wait times, and benchmarks for appropriate wait times, are lacking. The objective of the present consensus was to develop evidence- and expertise-based recommendations for medically appropriate maximal wait times for consultation and procedures by a digestive disease specialist.
METHODS: A steering committee drafted statements defining maximal wait times for specialist consultation and procedures based on the most common reasons for referral of adult patients to a digestive disease specialist. Statements were circulated in advance to a multidisciplinary group of 25 participants for comments and voting. At the consensus meeting, relevant data and the results of voting were presented and discussed; these formed the basis of the final wording and voting of statements.
RESULTS: Twenty-four statements were produced regarding maximal medically appropriate wait times for specialist consultation and procedures based on presenting signs and symptoms of referred patients. Statements covered the areas of gastrointestinal bleeding; cancer confirmation and screening and surveillance of colon cancer and colonic polyps; liver, biliary and pancreatic disorders; dysphagia and dyspepsia; abdominal pain and bowel dysfunction; and suspected inflammatory bowel disease. Maximal wait times could be stratified into four possible acuity categories of 24 h, two weeks, two months and six months.
FUTURE DIRECTIONS: Comparison of these benchmarks with actual wait times will identify limitations in access to digestive heath care in Canada. These recommendations should be considered targets for future health care improvements and are not clinical practice guidelines.