The enormous length of hospital waiting lists for treatment and rehabilitation has become a severe problem in the Netherlands. The Dutch Federation of Patients and Consumers Organizations (NP/CF) wants to address the issue by using the Internet as a dissemination tool for waiting list surveys of all major Dutch hospitals. By the end of 1998, the NP/CF staff plans to start up a Web site with detailed information on waiting terms for each medical specialization. According to the Automatisering Gids, the public will have general access to this site in order to compare waiting times between the different hospitals.
The NP/CF organization was founded in 1992 to enhance both the quality level of, and access to health care, to offer specific information to patients, and to defend their rights. Recently, the NP/CF has been focusing on the increasing problem of hospital waiting times. People often need to wait between two and six weeks for a first medical consultation, and for a surgical intervention, this even may take several months, depending on the type of operation and medical facility.
Since employers are obliged to pay for the first year of illness, in case their employees get sick, an initial proposal was to have private clinics funded by the employers. In this way, working people could benefit more quickly from treatment than the unemployed. The NP/CF staff however didn't agree with this kind of discrimination and presented a more democratic solution. In this scenario, the waiting times should be reduced through an optimised hospital efficiency and more investments in the overall health care system.
One of the measures includes the initiative to publish information on the hospital waiting lists, so that both referring physicians and patients are able to make a better selection out of the available medical facilities. The planned surveys are based on tables with average data, provided by the hospitals. For comparative reasons, the information is being revised and completed with some explanations. Patients and consumers explicitly have asked to present the data, classified by region.
The NP/CF initially will start providing the surveys for five regions. In the future, the organization will even try to tackle the problem at a European level. Some hospitals already have begun to put waiting lists on the Internet at their own initiative. General practitioners thus can make the best choice for their patients, simply by using a browser to view the surveys. Yet, the publication of hospital waiting lists on the Web needs to be carefully monitored. The figures may be drawn up, according to different systems, varying from clinic to clinic. In addition, the patient often has no idea about the exact cause of a long waiting list.
Overloaded lists may be the result of limited capacity or bad planning but it doesn't have to be like that. Perhaps, the excellent competence of the medical staff, the superior patient treatment or social contact forms the hidden cause of success and popularity, expressed in long waiting times. If the surveys are made publicly available, the supplementary risk arises that people are all going to select the hospitals with short or no waiting lists, which may cause new capacity problems. Please, consult the Web site of the Dutch Federation of Patients and Consumers Organizations for more information on the subject.