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Fairness in the coronary angiography queue


Background — Since waiting lists for coronary angiography are generally managed without explicit queuing criteria, patients may not receive priority on the basis of clinical acuity. The objective of this study was to examine clinical and nonclinical determinants of the length of time patients wait for coronary angiography.

Methods — In this single-centre prospective cohort study conducted in the autumn of 1997, 357 consecutive patients were followed from initial triage until a coronary angiography was performed or an adverse cardiac event occurred. The referring physicians' hospital affiliation (physicians at Sunnybrook & Women's College Health Sciences Centre, those who practise at another centre but perform angiography at Sunnybrook and those with no previous association with Sunnybrook) was used to compare processes of care. A clinical urgency rating scale was used to assign a recommended maximum waiting time (RMWT) to each patient retrospectively, but this was not used in the queuing process. RMWTs and actual waiting times for patients in the 3 referral groups were compared; the influence clinical and nonclinical variables had on the actual length of time patients waited for coronary angiography was assessed; and possible predictors of adverse events were examined.

Results — Of 357 patients referred to Sunnybrook, 22 (6.2%) experienced adverse events while in the queue. Among those who remained, 308 (91.9%) were in need of coronary angiography; 201 (60.0%) of those patients received one within the RMWT. The length of time to angiography was influenced by clinical characteristics similar to those specified on the urgency rating scale, leading to a moderate agreement between actual waiting times and RMWTs (kappa = 0.53). However, physician affiliation was a highly significant (p < 0.001) and independent predictor of waiting time. Whereas 45.6% of the variation in waiting time was explained by all clinical factors combined, 9.3% of the variation was explained by physician affiliation alone.

Interpretation — Informal queuing practices for coronary angiography do reflect clinical acuity, but they are also influenced by nonclinical factors, such as the nature of the physicians' association with the catheterization facility.



Alter DA, Basinski AS, Cohen EA, Naylor CD. CMAJ. 1999; 161(7):813-7.

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