Canadians deserve the very best in emergency care . Let's work to restore their confidence in the emergency health care system.

Patients as customers: surfing hospital emergency department websites for shorter wait times

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An interesting article by Pamela Fayerman of the Vancouver Sun.  Reports on the plan by Vancouver Coastal Health to publish ER wait times on the web.  This purportedly in the interest of public accountability, institutional transparency and empowerment of the emergency patient as consumer.This follows the lead of Alberta which has been reporting ER wait times for about a year and similar new initiatives in Ontario.

This is generally viewed by governments as a positive initiative for the reasons cited above.  Suspect they believe that patients with non-urgent problems will seek alternatives to emergency when they see the posted wait time or alternatively will go the extra mile to another emergency department with shorter wait times. 

Fair enough but the problem of ER crowding has nothing (repeat: nothing) to do with the overutilization of the department by patients with non-urgent problems.  There is thus no benefit in dissuading them from going to the ER from the perspective of crowding.

Furthermore, unless the posted ED wait time is in real time it has little validity.  Even the historically quietist departments can become backlogged very quickly by a sudden and profound emergency. (Trust me, I know).

There is also the very real concern that some patients with bona fide emergencies may be dissuaded from seeking care because of the perceived long wait for care.  This should never happen in Canada (but it does!)

Lastly, this is a program in its infancy.  Let’s view this on a trial basis not run off thinking that this is a significant contribution to solving ED crowding in Canada because it isn’t.

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