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Can J Neurol Sci. 2008 Jul;35(3):308-13.

Access to spine care: a tale of two cities.

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University of Calgary Spine Program and Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Foothills Hospital and Medical Centre, Calgary, AB, Canada.



As governments struggle with increasing demand for accountability within the Canadian Health Care System and set wait-time standards, it is important to objectify data to allow a true understanding of present limitations and to facilitate comparisons to other systems. The purpose of this study was to compare wait list times for a cohort of patients requiring spinal surgery in Calgary, Alberta to a similar cohort in Sydney, Australia.


From January 1 until June 30, 2006 all outpatients admitted for spinal surgery to the Foothills Hospital were identified by the surgeons' office. Two time periods were quantified from their charts: (1) time from referral to surgical consultation; and (2) time from surgical consultation to operative intervention. From July 1 until December 31,2006 patients were similarly identified through Neurosurgical offices at the Prince of Wales Public and Private Hospitals in Sydney, Australia.


Four hundred ninety-one surgical patients were captured during the six month period in Calgary and 155 patients during the subsequent six months in Sydney. The majority of patients in Sydney were treated in the Private Health Care system. Public patients in Sydney have access to a surgical consultant twice as fast as public patients in Calgary while private patients have access ten times faster. Access to operating room time within the public system is a rate limiting step in both countries. However, Sydney private patients receive their surgery four times faster than Calgary patients.


Compared to Calgary, access to specialized spine care in Sydney appears more efficient not only in the Private but also the Public Health Care System. Part of this efficiency may arise from offloading from the public into the private system. Solutions proposed to reduce wait list times should consider benefits of a Private Health Care System.

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