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Alberta’s emergency room wait times are better than most think, finds survey

Alberta's emergency room wait times

Readmission to a different hospitalAre Alberta’s emergency room wait times too long?

A large number of Alberta residents are misinformed about hospital emergency rooms and their processes, according to a new survey conducted by on behalf of the Alberta Medical Association.

The survey asked 1,350 Albertans a series of questions to gauge their thoughts on ER procedure and found a clear number of misperceptions, including the belief that wait times in Alberta’s ERs are “fairly long” or “very long.” That view was held by more than 80 per cent of respondents, even as a large majority stated that wait times they’d experienced were three hours or less, a time frame which albertapatients research director Marc Henry says is “reasonably timely access.”

“People’s perceptions about the wait times at emergency rooms, a lot of people think they’re too long,” says Henry, “but their perceptions aren’t entirely in keeping with their personal experiences.”


The survey found that over half of Alberta patients had at some point in the past not gone to the ER with a condition which in fact required urgent care, mostly due to concerns about wait times but also because they felt frustrated by seeing individuals in ERs who they thought shouldn’t be there.

Importantly, while a vast majority of residents professed an understanding of ER triage practices, when questioned further, the survey revealed otherwise. A large group (44 per cent) stated that high priority patients come first and others are served on a first-come, first-served basis, when in fact triage at ERs always operates in order of priority, regardless of arrival time.

The results show that more can be done to educate the public on how emergency rooms function, says albertapatients, specifically concerning the decision on when to go to the ER and how patients are evaluated and prioritized upon arrival. Seven in ten respondents said that they didn’t recall being given a wait time estimate when they checked into ER and nearly three out of four said their assessment priority level hadn’t been communicated to them when they registered.

“It could be useful if there are any gaps there that could be filled and gives people a better understanding of why they’re waiting,” said Henry.

Alberta Health Services provides a real time update on estimated emergency room wait times at various ER departments across the province.

Each year the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) releases a report on hospital care in Canada, with the new report revealing that of the more than 11 million ER visits in the 2015-2016 year, nine out of ten patients were seen for their initial assessment with a physician in 3.1 hours or less, a rate that was unchanged from 2014-15. The report states that patients visiting smaller hospitals’ ERs had shorter wait times, with nine out ten patients waiting 2.3 hours or less.

For the fifth year in a row, the CIHI reported that Concordia Hospital in Winnipeg received the ignominious distinction of having the longest ER wait times in the country, with nine out of ten people – approximately 2,960 patients – waiting 6.8 hours or less.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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