BACKGROUND: Monitoring wait times and defining targets for care have been advocated to improve health care delivery related to cancer, heart, diagnostic imaging, joint replacements and sight restoration. There are few data on access to care for digestive diseases, although they pose a greater economic burden than cancer or heart disease in Canada. The present study compared wait times for specialist gastroenterology care with recent, evidence-based, consensus-defined benchmark wait times for a range of digestive diseases.
METHODS: Total wait times from primary care referral to investigation were measured for seven digestive disease indications by using the Practice Audit in Gastroenterology program, and were benchmarked against consensus recommendations.
RESULTS: Total wait times for 1903 patients who were undergoing investigation exceeded targets for those with probable cancer (median 26 days [25th to 75th percentiles eight to 56 days] versus target of two weeks); probable inflammatory bowel disease (101 days [35 to 209 days] versus two weeks); documented iron deficiency anemia (71 days [19 to 142 days] versus two months); positive fecal occult blood test (73 days [36 to 148 days] versus two months); dyspepsia with alarm symptoms (60 days [23 to 140 days] versus two months); refractory dyspepsia without alarm symptoms (126 days [42 to 225 days] versus two months); and chronic constipation and diarrhea (141 days [68 to 264 days] versus two months). A minority of patients were seen within target times: probable cancer (33% [95% CI 20% to 47%]); probable inflammatory bowel disease (12% [95% CI 1% to 23%]); iron deficiency anemia (46% [95% CI 37% to 55%]); positive occult blood test (41% [95% CI 28% to 54%]); dyspepsia with alarm symptoms (51% [95% CI 41% to 60%]); refractory dyspepsia without alarm symptoms (33% [95% CI 19% to 47%]); and chronic constipation and diarrhea (21% [95% CI 14% to 29%]).
DISCUSSION: Total wait times for the seven indications exceeded the consensus targets; 51% to 88% of patients were not seen within the target wait time. Multiple interventions, including adoption of evidence-based management guidelines and provision of economic and human resources, are needed to ensure appropriate access to digestive health care in Canada. Outcomes can be evaluated by the ‘point-of-care’, practice audit methodology used for the present study.