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Disability Disrupted:

How the pandemic has created a backlog in health care

Posted by Medavie Blue Cross on April 8, 2022

Disability Disrupted:

How the pandemic has created a backlog in health care

Posted by Medavie Blue Cross on April 8, 2022

Editor’s Note: This is the first blog in a two-part series, which summarizes our first Insights webinar of 2022 on how the pandemic has been both the cause of significant delays in health care delivery and the catalyst for innovations that improve access to health care. Part one examines the challenges the pandemic has ushered in for health care, with a focus on disability management, while part two will look at the solutions the pandemic has accelerated to help members including disability claimants self-manage their care, navigate the health care system, as well as reduce their wait times to see a specialist.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption to health care delivery, with doctor visits, diagnostic tests, medical procedures and surgeries being put on hold.

According to data released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) in early December 2021:

Canadian hospitals performed 560,000 fewer surgeries since the start of the pandemic, compared with previous years.

On average, surgeries decreased by about 35,000 per month. The biggest decreases were seen in cataract surgeries (an average of 5,900 fewer surgeries performed per month) and hip and knee joint replacements (an average of 2,100 fewer per month).

Those are alarming numbers, especially when you consider how important timely treatment is to a patient’s recovery and return to work.

Seven years to clear backlog

Medical researchers currently estimate it will take seven years or more to clear the backlog in cancelled surgeries alone ― and that’s assuming the pandemic moderates and capacity increases.

Prior to the pandemic, health care systems across the country were operating at 85-90% capacity at all times. Rarely, however, was a medical procedure cancelled because of overcrowding in hospitals.

Then came the pandemic and the focus of health care completely shifted to COVID-19, effectively shutting down assessment, diagnostic and treatment services because of the volume of inpatients filling up beds. It didn’t take long for non-urgent care to suffer. The two main impacts were:

  1. Beds quickly filled up with COVID-19 patients, jamming the health care system.
  2. Health care resources were used for COVID-19 care, while non-urgent cases were delayed.
“It will take about 7 years to catch up on those surgeries that we canceled over the last 2 years. Think of it this way, we only had 10% capacity before. So, we can really only increase the number of tests, the number of surgeries by about 10%.” Dr. Arif Bhimji, Medical Consultant to Medavie Blue Cross

“Everything is about managing COVID”

Unfortunately, this situation has not changed over the past 2 years. People still need hip replacements, cataract surgeries, for example, but they can’t get access and there’s only so much that can be done virtually. Everything is about managing COVID.

Access to care under significant strain

Research by Medical Confidence shows a general increase of 4-6 months in wait times across all specialties. Even life-saving access to care has been put under significant strain over the last 2 years.

“The impact is even more significant for those that are not triaged as urgent - they are left to wait, and sometimes the waits are not just months, but years.” Kathryn Gregory, Director of Client Services Medical Confidence

In 2021, Canadians spent an average 25.6 weeks waiting to see a specialist after a doctor referral (up from 22.6 weeks in 2020), according to the Fraser Institute.

More than 1.4 million Canadians are currently waiting for specialist care and treatment, an increase of 34% since 2019, or the beginning of COVID.

Dollar and human costs of wait times

This wait comes at a cost. For Canadians, that cost is more than $19 billion for just 4 procedures — joint replacement, coronary artery bypass, cataract surgery and MRIs. This includes the cost of lost earnings, the cost to employers for employees no longer able to work, inefficiencies in the healthcare system and the cost associated with individuals requiring supportive care while they are waiting for specialist care and treatment.

"Research shows that when patients wait a significant time for medically necessary treatment, other physical and mental health issues can arise." Olivier Pagé Director, Group Disability Management Operations, Medavie Blue Cross

More importantly, there’s the human cost. Lengthened wait times can lead to increased pain, suffering, and mental anguish. In certain instances, they can also result in poorer medical outcomes — turning potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities. That’s why intervening early and expediting access to care is so critical.

Read on, view recording

Read part two of this two-part Insights blog to learn how Medavie Blue Cross, in partnership with leading health care experts like Medical Confidence, are coming up with innovative ways to address the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and watch the webinar recording to hear this insightful discussion, hosted by sales leaders Travis Kelly in English and Marc-André Blondeau. Medical Confidence presenter for the French webinar was Gillian Grossman, Account Manager.

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