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In the queue for coronary artery bypass grafting: patients’ perceptions of risk and ‘maximal acceptable waiting time’


Objectives — To elicit patients' maximal acceptable waiting times (MAWT) for non-urgent coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), and to determine if MAWT is related to prior expectations of waiting times, symptom burden, expected relief, or perceived risks of myocardial infarction while waiting.

Methods — Seventy-two patients on an elective CABG waiting list chose between two hypothetical but plausible options: a 1-month wait with 2% risk of surgical mortality, and a 6-month wait with 1% risk of surgical mortality. Waiting time in the 6-month option was varied up if respondents chose the 6-month/lower risk option, and down if they chose the 1-month/higher risk option, until the MAWT switch point was reached. Patients also reported their expected waiting time, perceived risks of myocardial infarction while waiting, current function, expected functional improvement and the value of that improvement.

Results — Only 17 (24%) patients chose the 6-month/1% risk option, while 55 (76%) chose the 1-month/2% risk option. The median MAWT was 2 months; scores ranged from 1 to 12 months (with two outliers). Many perceived high cumulative risks of myocardial infarction if waiting for 1 (upper quartile, > or = 1.45%) or 6 (upper quartile, > or = 10%) months. However, MAWT scores were related only to expected waiting time (r = 0.47; P < 0.0001).

Conclusions — Most patients reject waiting 6 months for elective CABG, even if offered along with a halving in surgical mortality (from 2% to 1%). Intolerance for further delay seems to be determined primarily by patients' attachment to their scheduled surgical dates. Many also have severely inflated perceptions of their risk of myocardial infarction in the queue. These results suggest a need for interventions to modify patients' inaccurate risk perceptions, particularly if a scheduled surgical date must be deferred.



Llewellyn-Thomas H, Thiel E, Paterson J, Naylor D. J Health Serv Res Policy. 1999; 4(2):65-72.

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