Almost 16 million medical procedures built up in Ontario pandemic backlog

The pandemic has created a backlog of an estimated 15.9 million medical procedures – more than one for every resident in Ontario, according to the Ontario Medical Association.

That’s in addition to the wait list of procedures that existed before the pandemic began.

“Three serious waves of infections have created a lengthy backlog of surgeries, diagnostic exams and other health-care procedures,” OMA President Dr. Adam Kassam said in a statement Wednesday.

To track the backlog, the OMA compared OHIP billing data for six procedures in 2020 to the same time period in 2021.

The OMA found the most significant backlog in the following procedures:

  • MRIs: 477,301
  • CT scans: 269,683
  • Cataract surgery: 90,136
  • Knee replacements: 38,263
  • Hip replacements: 16,506
  • Coronary artery bypass grafts: 3,163

If Ontario’s medical community worked at 120 per cent capacity, it would take them the following time periods to clear the backlog:

  • MRIs: 10 months
  • CT scans: 4 months
  • Cataract surgeries: 21 months
  • Knee replacements: 22 months
  • Hip replacements: 14 months
  • Cardiac surgery: 10 months

The bottleneck of procedures put on pause is more severe in community settings than hospitals, which according to the OMA, suggests that Ontarians are deferring visits to family doctors, a crucial stage in screening for chronic conditions.

By comparison, community settings have a backlog of 9.6 million procedures, while the backlog at hospitals is 6.5 million.

“We have also heard from community-based family doctors and specialists, who are reporting conditions that were left undiagnosed during the pandemic as patients avoided seeking help,” Dr. Kassam said.

On top of the backlog of unaddressed procedures and undiagnosed illness, Ontario’s doctors are expecting to see a surge in mental health and addiction care that will grow for years. After the 1918 influenza, mental health diagnoses linked to the pandemic continued for six years.

In a recent report, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office found it will take more than three years and $1.3 billion to work through the backlog of surgeries and procedures.