The impact of regionalization on a surgery program in the Canadian health care system

Arch Surg. 1997 Jun;132(6):605-9; discussion 609-11. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.1997.01430300047010.


Objective: To examine the impact of the regionalization of health care on the provision of surgical services in the Capital Health Region (Edmonton) of the province of Alberta.

Design: A 4-year retrospective descriptive analysis using data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and from the Capital Health Region data banks.

Setting: To control health care costs, the provincially funded health care system in Alberta reformed its governance structure and service provision model. We studied community hospitals and an academic health sciences center.

Patients: All patients undergoing surgical care in the region.

Interventions: Regionalization of the organizational structure with the elimination of hospital boards, consolidation of services on specific sites within the regional system, and a major reduction in funding.

Outcome measures: Inpatient and day surgery procedure volumes, average length of hospital stay, relative value units, bed use, and mortality.

Results: The Capital Health Region has a population of 723,000 people, with 5 acute care institutions. Eighteen clinical programs now provide care through 2 referral hospitals and 3 community health centers. The reduction in operating dollars for this region was $167.1 million from fiscal years 1992-1993 to 1996-1997. Redistribution of surgical services occurred on July 1, 1995, resulting in an 18% inpatient bed reduction. Regionally, the number of acute care beds has declined from 2.25 to 1.47 per 1000 population (P < .001). Bed use has fallen from 637 to 442 inpatient days per 1000 population (P < .001). The surgery volume (1995-1996) was 44770 procedures (-3.1%). Redistribution of surgical services into high- and low-acuity settings has resulted in most surgeons working on 2 sites. Overall average length of hospital stay has decreased significantly (P < .001); however, it has increased, together with the average relative value units, in the institutions caring for patients with high-acuity surgical illnesses. Mortality remains unchanged.

Conclusions: Regionalization and funding reductions within the surgical program in the Capital Health Region have resulted in a small reduction in surgical volumes. There have been major changes in service provision and the way surgeons practice.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • General Surgery / organization & administration*
  • Regional Health Planning*
  • Retrospective Studies