Director of Strategy & Stakeholder Engagement, Medtronic Canada
Canadians have never waited longer to get access to care — an issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the average wait time between when a primary care physician wrote a referral and when a patient received treatment was at an all-time high of 22.6 weeks1. An entire generation wasn’t even born yet when wait times were only 9.3 weeks in 1993.
In 2020, patient wait times were at an all-time high — 22.6 weeks from referral to treatment.
The silver lining is that existing medical technology can help address issues with wait times, both now and in the future.
“Robotic-assisted surgery, specialized implants, and surgical tools for minimally-invasive surgery along with artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual care are all medical technologies that positively augment the capabilities of clinicians to benefit patient care,” says Neil Fraser, President of Medtronic Canada.
These technologies can also play a role in addressing wait times.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people with chronic illnesses were reluctant to seek in-person care. Virtual health care lent a helping hand, with hospitals and clinics adopting remote monitoring and virtual visiting capabilities. Patients were able to connect with their clinicians while minimizing their risk of exposure, which also helped to keep wait times down. For example, a clinic in Alberta leveraged Medtronic’s CareLinkTM system to eliminate wait times for people on the system2.
Patients who have CareLink access enabled on their continuous glucose monitor or pacemaker can send their report to their endocrinologist or cardiologist, respectively, to improve care planning during a remote or in-person appointment. Given the convenience of virtual visits, we can expect that many patients will prefer this option even after the pandemic.
Advances in medical technology hardware make minimally-invasive procedures possible for a greater number of conditions. While some minimally-invasive surgeries, like cryoablation, have the potential to reduce wait times by speeding up procedure times, most save time by speeding up recovery, thereby freeing up beds.
For example, diseased aortic heart valves can be replaced using minimally-invasive transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) through an incision in the groin, reducing hospital stays by an average of four days3 compared to the more invasive open surgery option.
Innovative technology can help reduce wait times by speeding up recovery, thereby freeing up beds.
Complex spine surgery can be performed through keyhole incisions with the assistance of a robotic arm and enhanced visualization machines. “Studies show that most patients prefer minimally-invasive spine surgery, when it’s appropriate for their condition,”4 notes Fraser. “It can result in less pain with shorter hospital stays and overall faster recovery.”
On the software side, clinicians are increasingly using AI to detect diseases earlier and to speed up treatment planning. The Princess Margaret Hospital, for example, uses machine learning algorithms to assist with the process of planning radiation treatments for patients with prostate cancer5. The Peter Munk Cardiac Centre leverages AI to diagnose coronary artery disease6 in one day instead of weeks or months.
In the future, we can expect to see even more devices with AI embedded in them to further improve the diagnosis and treatment of various conditions.
Neither the hardware nor the software replaces the healing hands of the clinicians who care for their patients. However, many existing and future technologies have the potential to help clinicians provide timely access to the health care that patients need.
To learn more about how Medtronic ― the world’s largest medical technology, services, and solutions company ― is partnering with the health care system to improve access to care, visit medtronic.ca.
2. Data on file.