St. John’s patients call for real-time ER wait-time tracking

Long wait times in emergency rooms leave N.L. patients frustrated and exhausted, while patients from other provinces benefit from real-time wait-time tracking.

Jeffrie Pitchee
Jeffrie Pitchee waited at the Health Sciences Centre emergency room in St. John’s for 10 hours before he could see a doctor for his chest pain. Previously, he said, he overlooked injuries twice and chose not to come to the ER to avoid such a long wait. Sakib Ibn Rashid Rhivu/Kicker

Sakib Ibn Rashid Rhivu

Patients from various places in the province were waiting for hours at the Health Science Centre’s emergency room on Sunday, Jan. 16, to see a physician.

Among them was Jeffrie Pitchee, a first-year international student at Memorial University. He moved to Canada from Mauritius last year.

He was sitting in a dimly lit corner of the small waiting room, hugging his bag and overcoat on his lap. By that time, he had been waiting for nine hours for treatment of chest pain.

It was his third attempt to see a doctor in four days.

“I’m exhausted, both physically and mentally,” Pitchee said. He looked at the triage nurse room on his right. “I feel like I’m being ignored.”

“I can’t believe I have to miss work because of this never-ending wait. If I had known the wait would be this long, I’d have never come to risk my first day at work.”

Lisa Dover, after being in a motor vehicle collision

Another patient, Lisa Dover, had recently obtained a job and was due to start work the next morning.

She spent 11 hours in the emergency room waiting in line, sitting in a wheelchair in the lobby after a car collision.

“I can’t believe I have to miss my work because of this never-ending wait,” said Dover. “If I had known the wait would be this long, I’d have never come to risk my first day at work.”

Patients of some other provinces such as Alberta, British Columbia and few regions of Ontario can check how long the wait time is online prior coming to the hospital.

Alberta has had real-time wait-time tracking available in Calgary emergency rooms since 2011. The following year in 2012, the service became available to Edmonton residents.

*source: Alberta Health Services

After assessing its effectiveness, Alberta Health Services started offering this service in other regions such as Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and the Grande Prairie.

Melanie Veriotes, senior communication advisor at Alberta Health Services, says AHS has been able to improve patients’ satisfaction with this simple tool with no added cost.

“Albertans have told us that they want to be able to see what’s happening in the emergency departments when they are seeking emergency care,” Veriotes said. “They want to know the current status in those departments and to be able to plan accordingly.”

“Having the ability to check waiting times online would be priceless.”

– Jeffrie Pitchee

The wait times posted on the Alberta Health Services website reflect an estimate of how long it takes from the time a patient is assessed by a nurse in the emergency department until that person is seen by a physician.

The online wait times are refreshed every two minutes and are calculated through a software system that compares the number of people in the emergency department, and how sick they are, with the resources that are available and required to treat those patients.

After Pitchee was made aware of the Albertan approach, he said he could not believe the service is available for other people.

“When you come here, you’re already committed,” said Pitchee. “Having the ability to check waiting times online would be priceless.”

Dover had a similar reaction. She said the Newfoundland and Labrador government is not doing enough to improve their experience.

“I expect the government to take responsibility for the poor state of emergency-room care and invest in solutions like Alberta,” Dover said.

After repeated attempts by Kicker, Eastern Health did not respond to a request for an interview.

Veriotes says the real-time tracking tool not only helps patients but also benefits the hospitals in Alberta.

“When we monitored the effectiveness of this service, we found that the number of patients has spread over the whole day,” said Veriotes. “It has taken some peak time pressure off the ER.”

After waiting for long 10 hours by himself, Pitchee got a call to go inside.

On his way in, he turned back and said, “I wasn’t even this happy when my girlfriend said, ‘Yes.’”

About the author

Sakib Ibn Rashid Rhivu is a senior student journalist and the photo editor at Kicker News. While he waits for the sources to response, he loves to solve the Rubik’s cube.
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