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Measuring access: how accurate are patient-reported waiting times?


Introduction: A national audit of waiting times in England’s genitourinary medicine clinics measures patient access. Data are collected by patient questionnaires, which rely upon patients’ recollection of first contact with health services, often several days previously. The aim of this study was to assess the accuracy of patient-reported waiting times.

Methods: Data on true waiting times were collected at the time of patient booking over a three-week period and compared with patient-reported data collected upon clinic attendance. Factors contributing to patient inaccuracy were explored.

Results: Of 341 patients providing initial data, 255 attended; 207 as appointments and 48 ‘walk-in’. The accuracy of patient-reported waiting times overall was 52% (133/255). 85% of patients (216/255) correctly identified themselves as seen within or outside of 48 hours. 17% of patients (17/103) seen within 48 hours reported a longer waiting period, whereas 20% of patients (22/108) reporting waits under 48 hours were seen outside that period. Men were more likely to overestimate their waiting time (10.4% versus 3.1% p<0.02). The sensitivity of patient-completed questionnaires as a tool for assessing waiting times of less than 48 hours was 83.5%. The specificity and positive predictive value were 85.5% and 79.6%, respectively.

Conclusion: The overall accuracy of patient reported waiting times was poor. Although nearly one in six patients misclassified themselves as being seen within or outside of 48 hours, given the under and overreporting rates observed, the overall impact on Health Protection Agency waiting time data is likely to be limited.

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