As no health system can afford to provide all possible services and treatments for the people it serves, each system must set priorities. Priority setting decision makers are increasingly involving the public in policy making. This study focuses on public engagement in a key priority setting context that plagues every health system around the world: wait list management. The purpose of this study is to describe and evaluate priority setting for the Ontario Wait Time Strategy, with special attention to public engagement.
This study was conducted at the Ontario Wait Time Strategy in Ontario, Canada which is part of a Federal-Territorial-Provincial initiative to improve access and reduce wait times in five areas: cancer, cardiac, sight restoration, joint replacements, and diagnostic imaging. There were two sources of data: (1) over 25 documents (e.g. strategic planning reports, public updates), and (2) 28 one-on-one interviews with informants (e.g. OWTS participants, MOHLTC representatives, clinicians, patient advocates). Analysis used a modified thematic technique in three phases: open coding, axial coding, and evaluation.
The Ontario Wait Time Strategy partially meets the four conditions of 'accountability for reasonableness'. The public was not directly involved in the priority setting activities of the Ontario Wait Time Strategy. Study participants identified both benefits (supporting the initiative, experts of the lived experience, a publicly funded system and sustainability of the healthcare system) and concerns (personal biases, lack of interest to be involved, time constraints, and level of technicality) for public involvement in the Ontario Wait Time Strategy. Additionally, the participants identified concern for the consequences (sustainability, cannibalism, and a class system) resulting from the Ontario Wait Times Strategy.
We described and evaluated a wait time management initiative (the Ontario Wait Time Strategy) with special attention to public engagement, and provided a concrete plan to operationalize a strategy for improving public involvement in this, and other, wait time initiatives.