Understanding Wait Times

How Wait Times Are Measured

How wait times are calculated can depend upon the type of information systems that are available.

Wait times on this website are based on cases completed during the reported month. The exception is in diagnostic services.

Diagnostic services wait times are currently reported as:

  • an average wait time for completed cases (calculated retrospectively),
  • a minimum wait time based on the next available slot in the schedule (estimated prospectively), or
  • an average wait time based on the next available slot in the schedule (estimated prospectively).

As planned improvements in information systems for diagnostic services are implemented, diagnostic wait times will be standardized with other program areas.

Factors Affecting Wait Time Data

Many factors that affect wait times are unrelated to the availability of resources or the efficiency of a particular facility. They include:


Wait time data is quite variable and can change dramatically from month to month. Over time the measure of wait times often looks like this:

Small Volumes

The wait times information that is reported often show big differences between RHAs in how long patients have waited for services. It is important to note that a wait time calculation based on a very small number of patients over a very short period of time can be misleading, since a few patients with unusually long or short wait times may have a very large influence on the results for that month (particularly the average wait time). In this situation, a hospital might have a single month with a very long average wait time while the usual wait times are much shorter, and the experience for most patients will be unchanged. The result is that the smaller the number of cases reported, the more difficult it is to draw conclusions about what should be expected.

This issue will particularly affect RHAs that do not treat many patients (for example a small hospital performing cataract surgery), as well as larger hospitals that perform very specialized surgery (for example, surgery for lung cancer).

Other Factors Affecting Wait Times:
  • Patient Choice – a patient with a non-life-threatening condition may choose to delay treatment for personal or family reasons to a more convenient time.
  • Patient Condition – treatment may be delayed until a patient’s condition improves sufficiently that surgery or a test can be performed.
  • Follow-up Care – a patient with an existing condition may be pre-booked for a follow-up treatment or test to monitor changes in patient condition.
  • Treatment Complexity – specific resources may be required for a patient with special requirements, resulting in a delay until these can be scheduled.

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Wait Time Access Targets

Provinces and territories agreed to national evidence-based benchmarks in December 2005 (with the exception of diagnostic services, to follow in 2006). Manitoba is working with stakeholders and clinical experts to develop wait time access targets that patients, care providers and administrators can use to monitor progress. As data standards are developed, Manitoba will be adding these elements to the website.

Data Sources

RHAs are required to report wait time data for services funded by Manitoba Health and Seniors Care. Facilities collect information from physicians and from operating room or scheduling systems. This information is verified by RHAs before being sent to Manitoba Health and Seniors Care's Health System Innovation branch.

No confidential patient data is collected, therefore current data collection processes do not allow for an audit trail back to the original source of the data in the physician's office or a facility’s scheduling system. As a result, an error in data entry or transcription could have an effect on the wait times reported for a particular facility. Every effort is made to ensure data accuracy.

Increased Demand for Health Care Services

The options for care are becoming more complex. We have more health services available today than ever before and greater demand for these services.

Manitobans are more informed about their health and are actively taking part in their health care.

Increased Number of Health Care Professionals

Increased Number of Health Care Professionals

For every new technology we put in place in the province, we have to make sure there are health care professionals available to use the technology. Typical training programs can last many years.

Sometimes this means developing training programs to increase the number of health care professionals in the province. In other cases, this means attracting specialized professionals to come and work in Manitoba.

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Waiting as Part of Your Care

Waiting as Part of Your Care

“Waiting for care is part and parcel of the normal functioning of any health system.” - Canadian Medical Association, The Taming Of The Queue:  Toward A Cure for Health Care Wait Times

Sometimes waiting is part of your health care. Your provider may want to wait to see if your condition improves with time or to determine if a different kind of test or treatment might be best for you. Sometimes you have to wait to become as healthy as you can be before having a surgery or test. The healthier you are before you have a treatment, the more likely you will be healthy after a treatment.

In other cases, waiting for your treatment could be caused by a combination of factors, such as increased demand for health care services, limited health care resources (such as specialists and specialized machines), and inefficient use of existing resources.  Manitoba Health and Seniors Care is working with its partners to reduce wait times.

Making the Most of Health Care Resources

We all have a responsibility to use our health care resources as efficiently as possible.

Missed Health Care Appointments

Missed Health Care Appointments

Studies have shown that more than 30 per cent of patients don’t show up for their tests and services. If you can’t make your appointment, call and let the facility know.  If you cancel your appointment, another person can get in sooner.

Demand for Tests and Technology

Demand for Tests and Technology

Health care professionals want the best treatment possible for their patients – but that doesn’t always mean the most expensive test or using the most expensive technology.

Sometimes it is most appropriate for patients to have a more common test or treatment that is better suited to diagnose and treat the symptoms they have. This might mean having an X-ray taken instead of going for an MRI, or having an ultrasound test instead of a CT scan.  Your health care provider will decide which is best for you.

If you are waiting for a test or treatment that you don’t want to have, if you are waiting on multiple lists, or if you don’t need a test or treatment any more, make sure you take yourself off the list by contacting your health care provider, the facility or the appropriate wait list coordinator. Every person who is removed from a wait list places the next person one step closer to getting care.

Get Healthy!Get Healthy!

The best way to use health care resources as efficiently as possible is to be as healthy as possible. By eating right, exercising, not smoking and preventing illness, you can reduce your chances of getting diseases like diabetes and of needing services like hip replacements.

For more information on how you can get healthy, visit the Active Living website.

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