The acceptability of waiting times for elective general surgery and the appropriateness of prioritising patients

Jurriaan P. Oudhoff, Danielle R.M. Timmermans, Martin Rietberg, Dirk L. Knol, Gerrit Van Der Wal

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Background. Problematic waiting lists in public health care threaten the equity and timeliness of care provision in several countries. This study assesses different stakeholders' views on the acceptability of waiting lists in health care, their preferences for priority care of patients, and their judgements on acceptable waiting times for surgical patients. Methods. A questionnaire survey was conducted among 257 former patients (82 with varicose veins, 86 with inguinal hernia, and 89 with gallstones), 101 surgeons, 95 occupational physicians, and 65 GPs. Judgements on acceptable waiting times were assessed using vignettes of patients with varicose veins, inguinal hernia, and gallstones. Results. Participants endorsed the prioritisation of patients based on clinical need, but not on ability to benefit. The groups had significantly different opinions (p < 0.05) on the use of non-clinical priority criteria and on the need for uniformity in the prioritisation process. Acceptable waiting times ranged between 2 and 25 weeks depending on the type of disorder (p < 0.001) and the severity of physical and psychosocial problems of patients (p < 0.001). Judgements were similar between the survey groups (p = 0.3) but responses varied considerably within each group depending on the individual's attitude towards waiting lists in health care (p < 0.001). Conclusion. The explicit prioritisation of patients seems an accepted means for reducing the overall burden from waiting lists. The disagreement about appropriate prioritisation criteria and the need for uniformity, however, raises concern about equity when implementing prioritisation in daily practice. Single factor waiting time thresholds seem insufficient for securing timely care provision in the presence of long waiting lists as they do not account for the different consequences of waiting between patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number32
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2007

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