An evolution in the collection of elective surgery waiting times data is the focus of Waiting Times for Elective Surgery in Australia 1997-98 released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Head of the Institute's Patient Morbidity and Services Unit, Jenny Hargreaves, said that improvements in data quality over the last couple of years have now enabled the Institute to provide an overview of elective surgery waiting times for Australia.
'But to give a clearer and more detailed picture of what's happening at State and Territory level we still need more improvements in data quality, and consistency in data collection.'
Ms Hargreaves said that the Institute had been emphasising waiting times as 'a better indicator of hospital performance' than numbers on waiting lists.
'After all, if a particular hospital has a long waiting list, but the patients on the list are all operated on within a week, then the size of the list may not be a problem,' Ms Hargreaves said.
The report shows that around 20% of Australians waiting for elective surgery had 'extended waits' (waited for longer periods than defined desirable periods) at the end of June 1998. About 19% of patients classified as 'category 1' (admission clinically desirable within 30 days) had waited longer than the defined period.
For those admitted for elective surgery during 1997-98, about 8% had experienced extended waits. The experience of various States and Territories still cannot be compared with confidence. The figures show variation in the percentage waiting an extended time, from 5% in South Australia to 20% in Tasmania. These data were unavailable for Victoria.
'With the data we currently have these differences are difficult for us to explain,' Ms Hargreaves said. 'It may be a combination of differences in how the data are collected in each State and Territory combined with differences in the types of elective surgery undertaken.'
'The Institute is working with the States and Territories to refine the currently used data definitions so that high quality data can be compiled in the future.'