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Accessing ER wait times from home

June 21, 2012

St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener has become the first hospital in Ontario to post real-time estimates for emergency room (ER) waits on its website. Potential patients can find out the number of people being treated in the ER, the number waiting to be seen by a doctor and the estimated time they will likely spend waiting to be seen. Wait times are updated every 20 minutes and the website also estimates how busy the ER will get over the next six hours.

The website states clearly that people who need immediate medical attention should call 911 or go to their nearest ER; it also lists alternate options for potential patients, including local walk-in clinics and urgent care centers. The first month the web site went live, it received 10,000 hits and hospital data shows about 87 per cent of patients are seen in less time than the estimate provided.

Other than St. Mary’s, the Alberta Health Services is the only other Canadian health system to provide real-time wait estimates. Currently, Ontario hospitals only report their average ER wait times once a month, on a Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website.

Since St. Mary’s launched this initiative six weeks ago, 16 other hospitals — five in the Toronto area — are exploring the idea of adopting the technology developed at St. Mary’s.

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