Albertans say ER wait times and quality of care are deteriorating: survey

“The waits are too long and the crowding is getting worse,” said Dr. Paul Parks, chairman of emergency medicine at the AMA.

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Albertans believe emergency department wait times and quality of care have worsened in recent years, according to new research from the Alberta Medical Association.

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The online survey of 4,398 Albertans, conducted by ThinkHQ Public Affairs via the albertapatients.ca web portal, found that 84 percent of respondents characterize emergency wait times as long, including 54 percent who say they are “very long.” Seventy-one percent believe that the timeliness of care has decreased in the last four years.

The majority of patients surveyed consider the quality of care in emergency departments to be good, but 49 percent say they believe quality has declined in the last four years.

The data reinforces concerns emergency physicians already had, said Dr. Paul Parks, chairman of the AMA’s section on emergency medicine.

“The waits are too long and the overcrowding is getting worse. We know that, and now we also have some definitive evidence from a patient perspective that it’s true as well,” Parks said. He added that the data showed that most respondents reported waiting up to five hours for care during their last emergency room visit.

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“Many people avoid emergency departments because of the long waits. … It is very concerning that waiting times and increasing pressures on the system are causing patients not to seek care.”

One finding of particular concern to Parks was that nearly half of those surveyed (46 percent) said they visited an emergency department for care at some point in the past five years because they felt no other options were available to them.

He said the overnight closing of the Airdrie Urgent Care Center on weekends for the next eight weeks due to gaps in medical coverage is just one instance where patients will be forced to seek care in emergency rooms.

“If nearly half of (respondents) felt they had absolutely no access to care anywhere other than the ER when they would have liked to seek care elsewhere, that is a huge problem that we have to address. Parks said.

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Difficulties in accessing primary care in the community are adding to the pressure on Alberta’s emergency departments, AMA President Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren wrote in a letter to members on Friday.

“Our study shows that almost half of the patients went to the emergency department as a last resort,” Warren wrote. “A strong primary care system reduces the burden of emergency medicine and improves the interaction between primary care and secondary/acute care.”

The survey data also found a divide between the experiences of Albertans living in rural and urban areas, with higher rates of emergency room visits for those in the northern and central parts of the province compared to the Calgary and Edmonton areas.

“There’s no question that as soon as you get out of the biggest, most important centers, there are now a lot of communities that are struggling to have any type of health care,” Parks said. “It’s really bad, and we really need help.”

Online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population. If the data was collected through a random sample, the margin of error would have been plus or minus 1.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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