Objectives: This study sought to assess the impact of delaying coronary artery bypass surgery at one Canadian academic tertiary referral center.
Background: Universal access to medical services in Canada comes at the expense of waiting lists whose impact has been incompletely assessed.
Methods: A prospective, observational study of all residents of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island accepted for bypass surgery between 1 April 1992 and 31 October 1992 was undertaken to determine 1) whether triage guidelines were being followed; and 2) the incidence of cardiac death, nonfatal myocardial infarction and worsening symptoms associated with delayed operation. The analysis had 90% power to detect a mortality rate of > or = 3% (alpha 0.05).
Results: Of 423 patients referred, 35% were triaged as urgent, 9.7% as semiurgent A, 39% as semiurgent B and 16.3% as elective, with no age or gender bias identified. Operation occurred at < or = 1 week in 25%, < or = 1 month in 47%, and >6 months in 1.4%. There were no nonfatal myocardial infarctions, but five cardiac deaths occurred (1.2%). Of 275 patients not initially classified as urgent, 12.4% required reclassification to higher priorities because of worsening symptoms; none had perioperative myocardial infarction or died. One in four patients queued longer than target waiting times. Only 4% of patients considered prioritization on the basis of medical need unfair, but 64% experienced at least moderate anxiety.
Conclusion: This triage system equitably stratified patients to a queue. Deaths were rare and could not be attributed to the triage process. Patients with worsening clinical status were safely accommodated with earlier waiting times, but concerns remain regarding excessive waiting times and patient anxiety.