The tragically hip

If you live in the Yukon and need a new hip you're going to have to wait, but not that much longer than any other place in Canada.

If you live in the Yukon and need a new hip you’re going to have to wait, but not that much longer than any other place in Canada.

“There’s a process in place, I think a pretty equitable process,” said Sue Johnson, a physiotherapist with the Whitehorse General Hospital. “Yes, it does require jumping through some hoops, but they’re the same hoops you have to jump through down south.”

According to Yukon Health and Social Services, the wait time for hip replacement surgery is 13 to 29 weeks.

However with only two orthopedic specialists servicing the entire territory, waiting to get a referral can add seven to nine months to that wait.

For someone in pain it’s a long time, but it’s not much longer than the wait times faced by people living in the provinces.

And even combined, it’s still not as long as the two-year wait reported by CBC Radio One on Monday.

The same report stated Yukon doctors were only allowed to perform six hip replacements a year. And that’s not true, said Pat Living, communications director for Health and Social Services.

“We don’t say so many will be done this year. It’s solely dependent on what the surgeon can do to accommodate these patients,” said Living. “If you need it, you will get it.”

It’s difficult to compare wait times between jurisdictions because the Canadian Institute for Health Information doesn’t track how long it takes to see a specialist, only how long it takes to get surgery after a specialist has been consulted.

Comparisons are further hampered because the institute cannot track wait-time statistics in the North – none of the territories report those numbers to the institute.

When the First Ministers Health Accord was signed in 2004, all jurisdictions, including the territories, agreed to submit their statistics to the institute so they could be published.

Living doesn’t know why the territories don’t report their wait times, but the Yukon does submit many other statistics to the institute, she said.

While the territorial information gap is mysterious, it’s probably benign.

“It may be that because the care is delivered so differently it can’t be compared to the provinces,” said Leona Hollingsworth, an institute spokesperson.

The demand for joint replacement surgery of all kinds has been on the rise across the country.

From 1998 to 2009, the institute reported a rise of 106 per cent for both knee and hip replacements.

However, demand for these procedures hasn’t risen very much in the last few years in the Yukon, said Living.

While they wait, there are a number of resources available to help people prepare for surgery. The hospital offers physiotherapy, and the Canadian Orthopedic Foundation has a free, Canada-wide, peer-to-peer telephone information service.

For those Yukoners who are waiting for a joint replacement, the good news is that there are 1.4 million Canadians waiting just as long.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

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