Next Available Surgeon queuing is designed to smooth patient demand for care across many physicians. Incoming referrals are pooled and attached to the next available surgeon that is appropriate for the patient.
The benefits are more predictable wait times, less variation between the shortest and longest waiters, and fewer “shocks” when one physician’s schedule changes suddenly, for example during holidays or changes in the operating room schedules.
As part of its patient-centred approach to care, Alberta has adopted the Next Available Surgeon concept for elective hip and knee replacement surgery, although a small number of surgeons continue to operate under the traditional provider-to-provider referral model.
The impact of the Next Available Surgeon program on patient wait times is remarkable. For instance, in the Calgary Zone, surgeons participating in the Next Available program have seen average wait for surgery fall by almost 2 weeks, a 10% improvement, while non-participating surgeons have seen average wait times balloon by nearly 17 weeks, double what it was in 2010/11.
The difference is equally dramatic when you look at the distribution of wait times. Last year, the spread for participating surgeons resembled a bell curve, with more than half of patients receiving surgery within 14 weeks, and the longest waiting patients around 27 weeks.
In contrast, non-participating surgeons had a curve more than twice as widely spread out. Half of patients waited 33 weeks and the longest waiting patients were around 59 weeks.
The results are clear that the Next Available Surgeon program has had a beneficial impact on patient wait times, but only for those who access the Next Available Surgeon queue.