Eastern Health reviewing report on ER wait times

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on November 21, 2013
The entrance to the emergency department at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Eastern Health says it will review a new national position paper on emergency room wait times.

The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) released the paper Wednesday, and it was reported on in Wednesday’s Telegram.

A spokeswoman for Eastern Health said in an emailed statement Wednesday the authority hasn’t had a chance to do an in-depth review, but is looking for ways to address wait times in emergency rooms.

In a position paper, the CAEP is calling for national benchmarks and public reporting of wait times as a way to tackle overcrowding in the ER and the jam it causes for patients accessing care and hospital beds.

The paper, being published in this month’s issue of the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, proposes, among other things, that hospitals should strive for the target of a median ER wait of one hour before initial assessment by a doctor, and that 90 per cent of the patients would wait no more than three hours for that initial assessment by a doctor.

The national association said there is no excuse for continued inaction on emergency room congestion in the country, and suggests financial incentives or pay-for-performance bonuses be examined for hospitals that achieve improvements in emergency room service.

The document is endorsed locally by the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

Eastern Health said it follows the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale, which was developed by the CAEP and the National Emergency Nurses Affiliation.

Those benchmarks — which are the target as opposed to the actual experience — suggest that the patients in most urgent need of care are seen immediately for their first assesment by a doctor 98 per cent of the time. The targets then range in time to the longest waits for patients who show up in the least need of attention. According to the targets, those patients are supposed to wait no more than two hours for their first interaction with a doctor in  80 per cent of the cases.

The benchmark for ER patients to be placed in a bed on an inpatient floor is ideally four hours from the decision to admittance in 85 per cent of the cases.

And the targets suggest 90 per cent of patients should be in and out of the ER within five hours, 90 per cent of the time.

The health authority uses nurse practitioners to treat less ill patients in larger ERs and has added extra hours for doctors at the Health Sciences Centre and St. Clare’s in St. John’s.

It’s also finishing renovations to St. Clare’s Hospital, which will include extra space to treat patients.