Background: In 2005, the median waiting time for total hip and knee joint replacements in Ontario was greater than 6 months, which is considered longer than clinically appropriate. Demand is expected to increase and exacerbate already long waiting times. Solutions are needed to reduce waiting times and improve waiting list management.
Methods: We developed a discrete event simulation model of the Ontario total joint replacement system to evaluate the effects of 4 management strategies on waiting times: (1) reductions in surgical demand; (2) formal clinical prioritization; (3) waiting time guarantees; and (4) common waiting list management.
Results: If the number of surgeries performed increases by less than 10% each year, then demand must be reduced by at least 15% to ensure that, within 10 years, 90% of patients receive surgery within their maximum recommended waiting time. Clinically prioritizing patients reduced waiting times for high-priority patients and increased the number of patients at all priority levels who received surgery each year within recommended maximum waiting times by 9.3%. A waiting time guarantee for all patients provided fewer surgeries within recommended waiting times. Common waiting list management improved efficiency and increased equity in waiting across regions.
Discussion: Dramatically increasing the supply of joint replacement surgeries or diverting demand for surgeries to other jurisdictions will reduce waiting times for total joint replacement surgery. Introducing a strictly adhered to patient prioritization scheme will ensure that more patients receive surgery within severity-specific waiting time targets. Implementing a waiting time guarantee for all patients will not reduce waiting times--it will only shuffle waiting times from some patients to others. To reduce waiting times to clinically acceptable levels within 10 years, increases in the number of surgeries provided greater than those observed historically or reductions in demand are needed.