Understanding Wait Times

Wait Lists

A wait list is how physicians and hospitals track and schedule people who need specialized medical care, such as heart surgery, MRIs, and hip and knee joint replacements.

There is no single wait list for all British Columbians scheduled for surgery. People may be placed on a provincial list (e.g. Transplant Services), a regional list (e.g. open heart surgery), a hospital list (e.g. for a CT scan), or an individual physician's list (e.g. for hip joint replacement surgery), depending on the kind of surgical or medical service required.

An individual who needs emergency surgery does not go on a wait list and is treated without delay. For example, about half of all heart or cardiac surgeries in B.C. are done on an emergency basis, with no time spent on a wait list. If you need surgery or treatment that is not an emergency, you will be placed on a wait list after meeting with your surgeon.

Wait Times

In B.C., two of the parts in the journey to surgical services are tracked, Wait One and Wait Two.

  • Wait One is defined as the time that a patient waits for a first consultation with a specialist, measured from the time the referral is received to the date the first consultation with the specialist occurs.  We have started collecting Wait One data and this information will be analyzed and used for surgical services planning.
  • Wait Two is how long an individual waits for a surgery after they have met with their specialist. It is calculated from the time the procedure is booked in the hospital until it is completed or until the medical issue is resolved. It does not include the time waiting to see the specialist after being referred by their physician. This website is only reporting Wait Two data at the moment.

Wait times vary for procedures and hospitals. Wait times can depend on factors such as:

  • a patient's surgical priority which is determined by a patient's medical status;
  • which specialists your physician refers you to − some surgeons may have longer wait times because they receive more referrals from family physicians or share operating time in a hospital with a greater demand for operating room resources. In addition, some surgeons may perform fewer procedures or choose to work fewer hours in a period of time;
  • the capacity of hospitals or regions to do the procedure;
  • how fast your community and region are growing; and,
  • how busy specialists are in your community.

Wait Time Management

Responsibility for wait times is shared among the Ministry of Health, health authorities, health care providers, and individual patients.

  • The Ministry of Health provides funding to B.C.'s health authorities to provide service. The Ministry also establishes provincial policy, legislation and guidelines for the health system.
  • Health authorities are responsible for the planning and delivery of health services in the regions and communities.
  • Hospitals coordinate operating room time and bed availability for each service and procedure.
  • Physicians assess individual's needs and the urgency of the surgery or treatment.

Funding and Wait Times

More funding alone will not result in shorter wait times. Long-term changes, such as the development of clearly defined standards for treatment, will help ensure patients get the most appropriate and timely care.

The Ministry of Health is working in partnership with physicians to develop targets for safe and acceptable wait times for a range of hospital-based surgeries and procedures. Wait time targets are already in place for key priority surgical areas such as cardiac surgery, cataract surgery, hip and knee joint replacement surgery, hip fracture fixation surgery and cancer treatment.