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Is your health worth the wait for these treatments?

10 min read
16 Aug 2019

How long could you hold off getting treatment for a health condition? Could you wait a few weeks? Perhaps you’d struggle when you hadn’t been to work or kept up with the kids for a few months.

Or, maybe you’d hit your waiting threshold when pain-free days became a distant memory.

So, is your health worth the wait in the public health system, or might you be better off in the private system?

To help you decide, we spoke to our team of health insurance experts about the common surgeries people have asked about when taking out private health cover.

We also uncovered the public waiting times for these surgeries, thanks to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) Elective surgery waiting times 2017–18: Australian hospital statistics report.1 For comparison, we found out that the median waiting time for elective surgery in 2017-18 was 22 days for private patients, while public patients waited 44 days.2

Using all this information, we’ve broken down the public hospital waiting lists for the top five common surgeries, from the shortest to the longest wait time.

Heart surgery

What is it?

Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), a type of heart surgery, is performed on a person when the walls of their coronary arteries are narrowed, interrupting the flow of blood to the heart.3 This condition is known as coronary heart disease.

According to the AIHW, CABG was among the 25 most common elective surgeries in 2017-18.1

A CABG does take some time to recover from. You may need to stay in the hospital for around seven to 10 days before you’re discharged.3

However, recovery can take anywhere from six weeks to three months.4 According to St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, you may not be able to drive for up to six weeks post-surgery, and return to work time-frames could be anywhere from six weeks for light duties, or 3 months for heavier work.
Man clutching his chest in pain

How long do you have to wait for it?

Public waiting times for CABGs do appear to be shorter than for other surgeries, possibly due to the urgent nature of coronary heart disease.

According to the AIHW, patients needing a CABG waited a median time – the time in which 50% of patients were admitted for their procedure – of 17 days in 2017-18, while the 90th percentile – the time in which 90% of patients were admitted – of patients waited 82 days.1

How might waiting for surgery affect your health?

Coronary heart disease is not without its risks, despite the relatively short waiting time for surgery.

Angina is one such risk. Caused by lack of blood flow to the heart, symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.5 Heart attacks are also caused by coronary heart disease.3

These average wait times mean that someone with coronary heart disease could be in pain for an extra 17-82 days.

Up to 82 days of waiting + up to 10 days in hospital + up to 90 days of recovery = up to 182 days before you could resume your normal life

Skin lesion removal

What is it?

Skin lesions are lumps on or below your skin and can include moles, skins tags, and lipomas.6

These lesions can be removed through excision, a surgery that generally only takes 15-25 minutes to complete. You can usually go home after the excision and, unless you’re likely to strain the wound’s stitches, return to work the following day.

How long do you have to wait for it?

According to the AIHW, the median waiting time for a skin lesion excision was 25 days in 2017-18.1

That waiting time nearly quadruples for the 90th percentile of patients, who received a skin lesion excision within 90 days.

Doctor examining a mole on a patient's back

How does this waiting time affect your health?

Despite the short waiting times and shorter surgery, skin lesions can cause inconvenience and further problems.

For example, some moles may lead to skin cancer.7 Also, lipomas (soft fatty lumps under the skin) may cause pain as they grow, sometimes in embarrassing locations.8

While a relatively short waiting time, the 25-90-day wait for an excision can mean your skin lesion causes you just that little more pain, anxiety and embarrassment.

Up to 90 days of waiting = up to 90 days before you could resume your normal life

Hysterectomy

What is it?

A hysterectomy is a surgery to remove the uterus.9 Several conditions can be treated with a hysterectomy, including endometriosis, chronic pelvic pain and cancer.

Understandably, the recovery period after a hysterectomy may last for several weeks. You can expect to remain in hospital for several days, perhaps as many as seven, and you may not be able to drive a car for around three weeks.

Pending your doctor’s advice, you may also need to see a physiotherapist after surgery to rebuild strength and increase pelvic floor health. Learn more about how extras policies cover physiotherapy and other services to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses and fast-track your road to recovery.

How long do you have to wait for it?

The AIHW reported that in 2017-18, the median waiting time for a hysterectomy was 57 days, while the 90th percentile waiting time was a staggering 258 days.1

How does this waiting time affect your health?

A 57-day wait could mean an extra eight weeks of ill health for women already suffering from painful conditions like endometriosis or pelvic pain.

A 90th percentile waiting time of 258 days, however, means an extra eight whole months before many women may be able to experience relief from these conditions.

Up to 258 days of waiting + up to seven days in hospital + up to 21 days of recovery = up to 286 days before you could resume your normal life

Woman sitting on bed with stomach pain

Hernia Repair

What is it?

Hernias occur when your internal organs, like the intestines, push through a weak point in your abdominal wall.10 Inguinal hernias occur in the groin and are prevalent in men and children.11 All types of hernias need surgical repair.

Surgery on inguinal hernias (known as an inguinal herniotomy/herniorrhaphy) takes around 45 minutes to perform, and you can usually go home on the same day.10 However, it may take two to four weeks before you can return to work.

How long do you have to wait for it?

Australians needing an inguinal herniotomy/herniorrhaphy waited a median time of 56 days for the surgery in 2017-18, according to the AIHW.1

The 90th percentile waiting time, however, is over 200 days longer, at 259 days.

Man sitting on couch with abdominal pain

How does this waiting time affect your health?

Symptoms of hernias can include a visible lump in the groin/abdomen, a pulling sensation around that lump, and pain or discomfort (particularly when coughing, lifting or straining).12

Hernias can become dangerous, as the piece of internal organ protruding through the opening in your abdominal wall can become trapped in the opening.10 This cuts off the blood supply to the trapped piece of organ, which is known as a strangulated hernia.

Up to 259 days of waiting + up to 28 days of recovery = up to 287 days before you could resume your normal life

Septoplasty

What is it?

A septoplasty is a surgery to straighten a deviated nasal septum, which is the cartilage and bone structure separating your nostrils.13

Septoplasties usually only take around 45 minutes to perform and are done through your nostrils so that you won’t have any facial scars.

After your septoplasty, you can usually go home on the same day. However, you’ll need to take leave off work and stay away from groups of people for two weeks to reduce the risk of colds and infections.

How long do you have to wait for it?

Unfortunately, you could be waiting for several months for a septoplasty through Australia’s public health system.

In 2017-18, the median waiting time for this surgery was 248 days or just over eight months.1 The 90th percentile waiting time actually passed the one-year mark at 375 days.

In fact, 12.3% of the 5,577 patients who received a septoplasty in 2017-18 waited more than 365 days for the surgery.
Business woman at her desk pinching her nose in pain

How does this waiting time affect your health?

While a deviated septum may not usually cause problems, some people may experience blocked nostrils, nosebleeds and sinus infections as a result of the condition.14 They may even experience less obvious symptoms like noisy and disturbed sleeping, headaches and facial pain.

A 248-375 day wait means even more months – or even another year – of annoying nosebleeds, sinus infections (which can last up to two and half weeks15), insufficient sleep and pain.

Up to 375 days of waiting + up to 14 days of recovery = up to 389 days before you could resume your normal life

How does health insurance help me get treatment sooner?

Once you have an established health insurance policy and have served all applicable waiting periods, it can help you avoid the long public waiting times for surgery so you can get the treatment you need when you really need it.

To make your journey back to better health even smoother, health insurance pays benefits towards being treated as a private patient, which allows you to choose your own doctor in a private or public hospital, and you can enjoy the privacy of your own room to recover in after surgery if you choose to be treated in a private hospital (both subject to availability).

Doctor checking up on a patient in a hospital bed

Don’t want to wait that long for surgery?

You can compare and purchase health insurance policies from some of Australia’s leading funds right here and now to help fast-track your road to recovery. Just head over to our free health insurance comparison service, enter in a couple of details and compare and choose from the selection of policies available to you. Simples!

Sources

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Elective surgery waiting times 2017–18: Australian hospital statistics. Health services series no. 88. Cat. no. HSE 215. Canberra: AIHW. Published December 2018. Sourced May 2019.
[2] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Admitted patient care 2017–18: Australian hospital statistics. Health services series no. 90. Cat. no. HSE 225. Canberra: AIHW. Published May 2019. Sourced May 2019.
[3] Coronary artery bypass graft. Published by: healthdirect, under license from EIDO Healthcare Australia. Last reviewed: Sep 2018. Accessed: 07 May 2019.
[4] St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney. “After Cardiac Bypass Surgery.” St Vincent’s Hospital Heart Health. 2016. Retrieved from https://www.svhhearthealth.com.au/rehabilitation/after-cardiac-bypass-surgery
[5] Angina. Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: Jan 2018. Accessed: 08 May 2019.
[6] Government of Western Australia: Department of Health – Skin lesions. Published on HealthyWA. Last reviewed December 2018. Sourced May 2019.
[7] Moles. Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: Aug 2017. Accessed: 09 May 2019.
[8] Lipoma. Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: Mar 2019. Accessed: 09 May 2019.
[9] Hysterectomy. Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: Dec 2018. Accessed: 07 May 2019.
[10] Government of Western Australia: Department of Health – Inguinal Hernia. Published on HealthyWA. Last reviewed December 2018. Sourced May 2019.
[11] Inguinal hernia. Published by healthdirect. Last reviewed: Feb 2018. Accessed: 03 May 2019.
[12] Hernias. Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: Jan 2019. Accessed: 13 May 2019.
[13] Septoplasty. Published by: healthdirect, under license from EIDO Healthcare Australia. Last reviewed: Sep 2018. Accessed: 07 May 2019.
[14] Deviated Septum. Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: Jun 2017. Accessed: 08 May 2019.
[15] Sinusitis. Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: Sep 2017. Accessed: 09 May 2019.
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Written by Eliza Buglar

Because she likes reading, as well as watching endless amounts of films, Eliza majored in Creative Writing and Film and Television at QUT. She also likes music, but didn’t study that. When she’s not using her writing major at Compare the Market, you can catch her utilising that film major at every Marvel and Star Wars film that comes into cinema.

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