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A team approach to reducing wait times

November 21, 2012

When Dr. Calvin Law, a surgical oncologist, talks about reducing wait times for cancer surgery at Sunnybrook, he focuses on a single image. "The most important thing is to visualize a patient at home, with no cancer, smiling. The faster we can get patients through their treatment, the faster they can get on with their lives."

Thanks to the efforts of entire healthcare teams in the Odette Cancer Centre and the Department of Medical Imaging, Sunnybrook has made great strides making this a reality. In most cases, the Hospital is greatly below the wait times target set out by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network for cancer surgeries and for MRI and CT scans.

"What's important is that there is motion on reducing wait times at every level," explains Dr. Law. Dr. Law describes the work invested by all staff including both surgeons and their administrative assistants, each nurse on the ward involved in "enhanced recovery after surgery", a special nurse navigator who acts as a sort of traffic control centre for cancer care and all the way up to the senior leadership team.

While Sunnybrook leadership found ways to move the first surgery of the day along, the Odette Cancer Centre team also began to look for ways to reduce the cancellation of surgeries. One strategy was to move to a data-driven process where performance metrics guided decisions and were provided for each cancer surgeon and viewable by all, making the process transparent, accountable and educational.  "What a difference it was having the actual data. We could see the whole picture, we found ways to work together as a team and we started to share tips and tricks for getting patients the care they needed as quickly as possible," adds Dr. Law.

Teamwork has also been the key to success in the Department of Medical Imaging, where wait times for MRI and CT scans are well below the provincial target. The department's staff have worked together with the goal of making the process as efficient as possible.

"This is very much a team effort. There is no doubt that demand for imaging is rising and our staff are meeting this demand. We are fortunate to have skilful and dedicated technologists allowing high quality scanning and efficient patient throughput. Patients are often anxious when they come for a scan and achieving first rate scan quality involves more than just technical expertise and reflects true patient-centred care. Our radiologists are international experts with the skills required to work in a centre dealing with patients with diverse and complex conditions," says Dr. Alan Moody, Radiologist in Chief at Sunnybrook.

The department has looked at areas such as the booking process, improved the no-show rate for patients and streamlined the scanning process to ensure that all available imaging slots are utilized. Every patient that comes to the Department of Medical Imaging is reviewed and prioritized according to their urgency ensuring patients receive their diagnosis when they need it in an appropriate timeframe.

Dr. Law returns to his bottom line when speaking about wait times. "What reduced wait times means is that there is another extra person out there who no longer has cancer. That's reason to celebrate."