Study to look at whether patients needing surgery the most are those receiving it

What happens to people needing elective surgery such as hip replacements, bypass operations and cataract removal is the subject of a new three-year research project: Pathways - the surgical access study.

Researchers from Otago University's Wellington and Dunedin Schools of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Victoria University's Health Services Research Centre aim to find out what happens to patients GPs think would benefit from surgery. They will be looking at how long patients wait, who has surgery in public hospitals, who goes to private hospitals, what the costs of waiting are to patients and to the health system and what the benefits are of having surgery.

"As our population ages, and more surgical procedures are developed and needed, the challenge for the Ministry of Health - and for doctors - is how to ensure that the patients who need surgery the most and would benefit the most are those who do receive the surgery that is available," says Otago's Dr Tony Dowell, Professor of General Practice.

Funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the research is being carried out in South Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Nelson and Otago. All GPs in those areas will be invited to take part in the study.

GPs will ask their patients to take part if they think the patient has a condition which might be improved by surgery.

Researchers will interview the patients every three months for up to 18 months and observe their progress through the system. Patients will be asked about their quality of life, their ability to work and take part in voluntary activities and education.

They will also be asked how much their health care has cost them, including the cost of caregivers. The study hopes to recruit 4000 patients.

It is hoped that understanding the different pathways to care for patients will contribute to improving access for patients who need surgery the most. It is important that patients support the study if they are asked to take part by their GP, Professor Dowell added.

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