Partnership improves wait-times for patients with cataracts

KHSC surgeons completing cataract surgery in the Focus Eye Centre OR. Image via KHSC.

An innovative partnership between Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) and Focus Eye Centre is making cataract surgery more accessible for patients and families and redefining what it means to be a tertiary care hospital.

“The partnership takes advantage of a state-of-the-art operating room (OR), which is the first-ever OR used by KHSC outside of the Hotel Dieu Hospital (HDH) and Kingston General Hospital (KGH) sites,” said Martin ten Hove, Head of the Department of Ophthalmology at KHSC and Queen’s University. “In this partnership model, Focus Eye Centre provides the staff and the OR facility and they work with us to schedule KHSC’s surgeons.”

Cataract surgery is the most common surgery performed in North America and generally takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete through an outpatient procedure, according to a release from KHSC. The backlog for cataract surgery is influenced by a number of factors including staffing and operating room availability, aging populations, and for the last two years, COVID-19.

In Kingston, KHSC said that there is a growing backlog of patients waiting for cataract surgery, exacerbated by COVID-19. During the pandemic, the average number of cataract surgeries performed dropped from 240 per month in 2018 down to 157 per month in 2020, according to the release.

“As cataracts age they become more sight impairing and technically more challenging to remove. Working with Focus Eye Centre has helped us begin to address the growing backlog and move toward pre-pandemic activity,” said Dr. ten Hove. “This partnership reflects our courage to try new things and clearly demonstrates how KHSC functions as a hospital without walls and is continually redefining what it means to be a tertiary care centre. Of course, patients who prefer to have their surgery at the HDH site can retain their place on the wait list and do so.”

As the population gets older, KHSC said they are seeing a higher demand for cataract surgery. Cataracts are a normal part of aging; as we age, the lens at the front of our eye gradually clouds over, blocking light from reaching the back of our eye making it harder to see, the hospital organization explained. Cataract surgery consists of removing this cloudy lens, and replacing it with a clear, new, artificial lens. According to the release, innovative approaches to care, such as this partnership, are necessary to reduce wait times and improve patient outcomes.

“After running a laser vision centre at the HDH site for many years, we had to relocate because of COVID-19. We were fortunate to find a new facility that already had operating rooms and leading-edge technology, which eye surgery relies heavily on,” said Kevin Chadwick, Director of Focus Eye. “Cataract surgery is only recently part of our regular practice and we had excess capacity and wanted to help address the backlog of patients because we are part of the community and wanted to give back in some way. It has been gratifying to be a part of the solution. Some patients can return to driving, caring for their partners, return to work, and experience improved quality of life.”

The partnership has been successful at improving wait times and improving patient quality of life, KHSC stated. According to November data from Health Quality Ontario, patients with less urgent needs waited on average of 154 days for cataract surgery across Ontario while those patients waited on average of 92 days for cataract surgery at KHSC.

Satisfied patient Judy Ryde testified to the improvement in her quality of life.

“The service is a well-oiled machine,” she said. “Staff were friendly, professional and did a wonderful job. They got me in quickly and I had both of my eyes done and I am pleased as punch. I am an avid reader and love doing crossword puzzles, but the biggest impact on my life is the ability to drive. I wasn’t going very far because I didn’t want to endanger anyone. Believe me when I say this service has made a huge difference in my life and I am grateful for the outstanding care provided.”

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