Written by Dr. Neil Barclay, Regional Medical Director, Emergency Medicine

Ahead of the busy holiday season, we share four common reasons why Emergency Department wait times occur and how a person can avoid going to ER.

If a person understands how an Emergency Department functions, they can make an informed decision about whether it’s appropriate to go to the hospital or have a non-life threatening health care concern treated by their family physician or at a walk-in clinic. Up to 20 per cent of visits to the Emergency Department can be avoided, which is why we encourage people to get the flu shot and take other preventative measures to protect their health.

There are four common reasons why a person with a non-life threatening health concern may experience a lengthy wait in the Emergency Department:
  1. Other patients require more urgent care: Unlike a walk-in clinic, the Emergency Department does not operate on a first-come, first-served basis. The triage process (meaning ‘to sort’) determines which patients need the most urgent care, and prioritizes accordingly.
  2. You need additional tests or lab work: If your health care concern requires waiting for additional test results, like blood work, an ultrasound, or CT scan, this can result in a longer visit and lengthier wait times in the Emergency Department.
  3. The unexpected has occurred: Unforeseen circumstances, such as a natural disaster or a major car accident can result in a sudden influx of patients who need urgent care. This leads to longer wait times in the Emergency Department for those waiting with less urgent health care needs.
  4. You come at a busy time. Sometimes it’s busy, particularly during the holiday season when visits to the Emergency Department can increase by as much as seven per cent.
Read the full public service announcement.

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