June 10, 2011 – Alberta Health Services (AHS) is intent on “becoming the best publicly-funded health-care system in Canada”, by establishing health benchmarks.
Certainly the AHS is taking some important steps to becoming the best healthcare system in Canada by identifying benchmarks that can lead greater accountability in the health system. With increasing pressures on health services and budgets, AHS is taking important initial steps toward establishing service and quality standards, monitoring progress, and reporting the results.
According to their most recent quarterly performance report, “the start of this journey begins with knowledge and ambition: knowledge of how our services compare to the best, and ambition to improve the quality of our services and the health of Albertans. The targets are intentionally ambitious. Setting goals for performance and monitoring our progress in reaching these goals are fundamental to transforming the health-care system.”
The report links performance targets to five Transformational Improvement Programs to help AHS ensure they are making the right improvements and are putting resources in the right places.
What’s being measured?
AHS delivers health services in five zones, each with different populations and geography. The measures presented in the report track current and projected performance in a broad range of indicators that span the continuum of care. They include primary care, continuing care, population and public health, and acute (hospital-based) care. In addition, they touch upon various dimensions of quality such as timeliness, effectiveness, efficiency, satisfaction rates and others.
Hip replacement surgery wait times, for example, are measured against a standard wait time of no more than 28 days. The report shows that actual wait times for the procedure are 42 days, which is officially outside the acceptable range of target, suggesting that action must be taken to further reduce the wait times.
The report performs similar measurements for other areas, including wait times for continuing care placement, discharge times for people in emergency care, scheduled surgery wait times, average length of hospital stays, and more.
Better Healthcare for less?
Crucially, the AHS is attempting to accomplish these goals while containing healthcare spending growth. Until recently, healthcare spending in Alberta grew by 10% per year. Over the next several years, growth in spending will be contained first to 6.66% and eventually to 4.5% per year.
The task is large, but so too are the challenges facing the healthcare system. The AHS report shows that much needs to be done to meet their stated benchmarks, but identifying standards is a crucial first step towards meeting high standards. Pressures on the healthcare system Canada wide are increasing, and as they do more provinces will have to institute a performance measuring system that shows where progress is made and where more attention is needed.
Better care for less will require every part of the health system to work smarter and benchmarking performance quality is a smart place to begin the process.
To Read the Full AHS quarterly report, Click here
Keywords: healthcare, accountability, wait times, costs