Late last year, Health Sciences North was one of the worst performers in the province for cancer surgery wait times.
At the time, only around 63 per cent of oncology patients received access to the care they required within the target wait time.
Patients who were supposed to wait two weeks for their surgery had to wait an extra week on average. Patients with a four-week wait time, had to wait six weeks to reach the operating room, and those with three-month wait times usually had to wait another month for their surgeries.
But in December 2013, the hospital took steps to improve wait times for cancer surgeries.
From December to February 2014, more than 90 per cent of oncology patients received their surgeries within their target wait times.
If Health Sciences North's surgical program continues on that course, the hospital will jump from the bottom rung in the province, to the top quartile of hospitals for cancer surgery wait times, said Dr. David Boyle, the surgical program's medical director.
Boyle said the improved wait times came when hospital staff acknowledged there was a problem.
“If you pay attention to the problem, and make sure from week to week you're improving it, and you engage all the front-line people who are players in this, it can make a difference,” he said.
Before the changes in December, it took two to three weeks for cancer patients in Sudbury to get a scheduled time for their surgeries.
Boyle said front-line clerks were empowered to have more control over the scheduling, and were able to schedule patients' surgeries within three days.
If it takes longer than three days for a patient to get a surgery date, Boyle said, the issue is now brought to senior management, who work to solve the problem.
The hospital also updated its booking and scheduling software to provide real-time information on cancer surgery wait times, which has helped reduce bottlenecks as they happen.
Before, the data they received was two weeks old, which prevented staff from reacting to the daily realities in the operating rooms, said Boyle.
Surgical oncology represents about 15 per cent of all surgeries at Health Sciences North. While efficiencies could help improve wait times for other surgeries, Boyle said the hospital would also need more resources – namely operating room time – to make a real dent in wait times for other surgeries.It costs around $8,000 a day to run one operating room, he said.
Joe Pilon, Health Sciences North's chief operating officer, said during a hospital board meeting Tuesday, the long-term goal is to apply the new efficiencies gained in surgical oncology to other hospital departments.