Ontario hospitals tackle 'staggering' surgical backlog caused by COVID-19

WATCH ABOVE: Ontario is facing a massive backlog of health-care services due to the pandemic. It is estimated that it could take months or even years to tackle the surgical backlog in the province. Caryn Lieberman reports.

Assuming doctors worked 120 per cent more hours than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic, which Dr. Adam Kassam, president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) called ‘unsustainable,’ the estimated time to catch up on the most common medical procedures would still be up to two years.

“Using that rate, we know that there are 30 months’ worth of wait times for knee replacements, it’s 20 months for a hip replacement, it’s 25 months for cataract surgery. So we’re talking months and years for the patients of Ontario,” said Kassam.

“Our numbers right now are quite staggering,” he added.

Elective surgeries were cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic and during the third wave leaving healthcare workers now scrambling to find ways to be creative and innovative as they aim to get them back on track.

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“Pre-COVID we had this vision to have same-day surgeries for hips and knees and once you have that as your focus … then you think about what are all the things we need to do? Blood conservation strategies and pain management are the big two and then physiotherapy to get the patients up on the day of surgery,” said Dr. Stephen Halman, Chief of Surgery at Humber River Hospital.

Halman can remember a time not too long ago when non-emergency surgeries were stopped and the focus was on the intensive care unit and growing number of COVID-19 critical patients.

“We were a really tight group every morning meeting to go over the list and making sure that we optimized every operating room that we had, the inpatient beds that were still available in surgery were used to their maximum capacity and working with everybody, the nurses, the clerical staff, everybody worked very hard to make sure that we maintained the volume of urgent surgeries,” he recalled.

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The OMA found the pandemic created a staggering backlog of almost 20 million health-care services, including doctors’ visits, diagnostic tests, treatments and surgeries.

The backlog is based on OHIP data from March 2020 to September 2021.

“That someone’s hip or knee replacement that’s gone delayed, that’s someone’s cataract surgery that’s gone delayed, it’s someone’s colonoscopy, mammogram, a cancer screening and diagnostic care that’s gone delayed. So this is a significant concern in the profession and for patients,” said Kassam.

The OMA recently came out with a plan to tackle the backlog and improve healthcare in the province.

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“There are many areas where we believe collaboration and cooperation can actually help. So first and foremost, healthcare is a team sport and we have been calling on increased funding by not only the provincial government, but also the federal government to address the backlog of services,” said Kassam.

At Humber River Hospital, in the obstetrics and gynecology department, one way the team has tackled the backlog is by creating an outpatient hysteroscopy clinic.

“The wait times to get into the clinic are much shorter … your recovery is also faster so probably within an hour or an hour and a half, you’re back home and back to doing your normal activities,” explained Dr. André Laroche, chief of obstetrics and gynecology and the medical director of the Maternal Child Program.

“A hysteroscopy is having a look inside of a uterus with a little cameraWhat that allows us to do is to diagnose and treat certain medical conditions leading to either abnormal uterine bleeding, post-menopausal bleeding or infertility,” said Laroche.

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For patient Ioana Caracas-Lupu, the clinic helped her to get the procedure done in a timely manner and most importantly, get the answers she needed.

“It was nice to see that I could be seen quickly because I had trouble even finding a gynecologist for about a year and having to suffer through symptoms is definitely not OK,” she said.

Halman called COVID-19 “the great accelerator,” pointing out the pandemic has forced healthcare leaders to find ways to do things they had not been able to accomplish before.

“We’ve been able to be much more efficient and get back to where we were even still not opening up all our rooms and we’re not yet quite there. Probably January will get us up to 100 per cent of where we were pre-COVID. But then at that time, we’ll be able to probably closer to 110 120 per cent of where we were,” he said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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