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New N.S. Health website shares estimated ER wait times

Paramedics are seen at the Dartmouth General Hospital in Dartmouth, N.S. on July 4, 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan) Paramedics are seen at the Dartmouth General Hospital in Dartmouth, N.S. on July 4, 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

A Nova Scotia emergency department physician says a new website providing estimated ER wait times will equip patients with valuable information while navigating health care.

Dr. Jan Sommers, head of the Colchester East Hants Health Centre emergency department, said in an interview Tuesday that residents in need of urgent medical care should never be deterred by long wait-time estimates because “people with life-threatening and other highly time-sensitive issues are typically seen without delay.”

The new portal released Tuesday shares estimated wait times, updated hourly, for 10 of the largest emergency departments in Nova Scotia and reflects what a patient can expect if they are “at the lower end of the triage scale,” Sommers said.

Open wait-time data like this reflects a “shift” towards providing more detailed health information to patients, Sommers said.

“We view our patients as partners in their care, and it’s difficult for them to make choices when they don’t have any information.”

“It’s really intended more for situations where people are perhaps experiencing a barrier to care at other locations and they choose to go to an emergency department because they feel it’s the only option, but their health needs are perhaps not as pressing as what we might typically see” at the ER, she said.

Sommers said the new site will give people insight into what kind of experience they can expect ahead of an emergency department visit, assuming the patient is not presenting with urgent care needs.

Steven Carrigan, director of analytics for Nova Scotia Health, said in an interview Tuesday the website uses a combination of historical wait-time data and current ER patient numbers that are updated hourly.

“If there’s a significant change [of patient numbers] within an hour period, it would be accounted for in the next hourly update,” he said. The data is updated using ER patient registration information tracked in the health authority’s internal system.

Carrigan said this effort is “another step” in the health authority’s ongoing focus on increasing public health reporting.

This wait time website comes after the province released its planned changes to the way emergency departments operate in order to ensure residents with urgent needs are treated quickly. This plan, released in January, followed the death of two Nova Scotia women who waited hours for care.

Sommers said this new website is not among the health authority’s many plans to address wait times, but that it’s about catching up to the fact that “we’re really just living in an information age.”

“When you order a package on Amazon you can get an estimate of its delivery time within several hours. So when seeking health care, which is a very important thing, I think it’s worthwhile to know or be able to anticipate how long you might wait to receive care,” Sommers said.

The website is currently tracking some of the largest emergency departments in the province, but Carrigan said he expects it will be expanded to include all ERs in the province in the coming weeks.

In a statement Tuesday, Nova Scotia’s Department of Health said regardless of the predicted wait times, those with the most urgent need are seen first.

“So, it’s very important that this data does not stop Nova Scotians from seeking the care they need when they’re facing an emergency,” the statement said.

Anticipated wait times are currently available for:

  • QEII Health Sciences Centre (Halifax Infirmary site) in Halifax
  • Dartmouth General Hospital
  • South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater
  • Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville
  • Yarmouth Regional Hospital
  • Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro
  • Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in Amherst
  • Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow
  • St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish
  • Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney

 For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page Top Stories

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