A lack of resources has created waiting lists for many elective surgical procedures within Canada's universal health care system. Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) for the treatment of atherosclerotic ischemic heart disease is one of these affected surgical procedures. We studied the impact of waiting times on the quality of life of patients awaiting CABG.
A prospective cohort of 266 patients from 3 hospitals in Montreal was used. Patients who gave informed consent were followed from the time they were registered for CABG until 6 months after surgery; recruitment began in November 1993, and the last follow-up was completed in July 1995. Patient groups were classified according to the duration of the wait for CABG (≤ 97 days or >> 97 days). We measured the following outcomes: quality of life (using the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short Form [SF-36]), incidence of chest pain (using the New York Heart Association angina classification), frequency of symptoms (using the Cardiac Symptom Inventory) and rates of complications and death before and after surgery.
There were no differences in quality of life at baseline between the 2 groups. Immediately before surgery, compared with patients who waited 97 days or less, those who waited longer had significantly reduced physical functioning (change from baseline SF-36 score 0 v. –4 respectively, p = 0.001), vitality (change from baseline score –0.1 v. –1.3, p = 0.01), social functioning (change from baseline score 0.4 v. –0.4, p = 0.03) and general health (change from baseline score 1.1 v. –1.7, p = 0.001). At 6 months after surgery, compared with patients who waited 97 days or less for CABG, those who waited longer had reduced physical functioning (change from baseline SF-36 score 4.0 v. –0.1 respectively, p = 0.001), physical role (change from baseline score 0.8 v. 0.0, p = 0.001), vitality (change from baseline score 2.2 v. 0.9, p = 0.001), mental health (change from baseline score 1.2 v. 0.0, p = 0.001) and general health (change from baseline score 1.8 v. –0.3, p = 0.001). The incidence of postoperative adverse events was significantly greater among the patients with longer waits for CABG than among those with shorter waits (32 v. 14 events respectively, p = 0.005). Longer waits before CABG were associated with an increased likelihood of not returning to work after surgery (p = 0.08): 10 (53%) of the 19 patients with longer waiting times remained employed after CABG, as compared with 17 (85%) of the 20 with shorter waiting times.
The significant decrease in physical and social functioning, both before and after surgery, for patients waiting more than 3 months for CABG is an important observation. Longer waiting times were also associated with increased postoperative adverse events. By decreasing waiting times for CABG, we may improve patients' quality of life and decrease the psychological morbidity associated with CABG.