Busy ER departments leading to added healthcare costs and workloads: University of Alberta study

Emergency room doctors in Edmonton and across the country are sounding the alarm about the dire state of ER wait times.

“Anywhere from two to seven hours depending on which emergency department you are going to and currently I’ve seen wait times across the country even approaching 18 to 20 hours,” pediatric emergency physician Dr. Rod Lim said.

“We’re seeing emergency departments closed and we’re seeing wait times reach dangerous levels across the country,” emergency physician Dr. David Carr said.

Read more: Stollery Children’s Hospital ER seeing ‘unprecedented’ wait times, surge in patients: Edmonton doctor

A new University of Alberta study (https://www.ualberta.ca/folio/2022/10/crowded-emergency-rooms-adding-hidden-costs-to-health-care-system.html) finds those busy emergency rooms have led to higher costs because of the need for additional care after the initial emergency room visit.

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“As they get busier they have less time to spend with the patient directly,” said study author and U of A business professor Mohamad Soltani. “As an alternative what they do is they order more tests that can be helpful in diagnosing the case.”

Compounding the problem is a shortage of staff, like nurses resulting in greater workloads for those front line staff in the ER.

But Soltani stresses there are things patients can do to alleviate some pressure.

“For the patient side, we propose that the next time you are going to the emergency room, just give it a second thought. Do you really need to go to emergency room? Or do you have some other channels where you can seek care,” Soltani said.

Read more: Emergency room at Alberta Children’s Hospital ‘extremely busy,’ complex mental health needs adding to workload

Edmonton ER doctor Warren Thirsk said more robust changes are needed in the healthcare system.

“We need better planning, we need to admit that we have run the system too lean, we need to come up with plans that take into account the crux of the healthcare system as people, so its people who look after people,” Dr. Thirsk said.

He said these wait times and staffing shortages are the worst he’s ever seen and healthcare professionals and patients end up paying the price.

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“Knowing that we can’t help people like we were trained to do — like we would want our family members to be looked after — is painful to see day after day,” Dr. Thirsk said.

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