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Sask. ER visit lengths not increasing but higher than national average: CIHI

90 per cent of Saskatchewan emergency department visits last less than 10.1 hours.

Bryan Schlosser / Regina Leader-Post

The average length of an emergency room visit in Saskatchewan is not increasing, but it’s still almost a third longer than the national average, according to new data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). 

The independent agency reported Thursday that 90 per cent of emergency room patients in the province are discharged or admitted to hospital within 10.1 hours, compared to the national average of 7.8 hours. 

Saskatchewan’s emergency rooms do a good job triaging the most serious cases for immediate attention, but the province’s higher-than-average emergency room visit lengths suggest more can be done, said Juliana Wu, CIHI’s manager for clinical administrative databases. 

“It would be an area that, I think, warrants quite a bit of attention,” Wu said. “Having said that, we know this is a persistent problem in Canada. Wait times have been growing for a couple of years now … We all acknowledge this is a difficult challenge to tackle.” 

CIHI’s data comes from about half of Saskatchewan emergency rooms. While that is important to keep in mind, Wu said, it’s enough to show that the comparatively long length of an emergency room visit in the province is likely the result of “myriad factors.”

One example involves people aged 65 and over, who typically have more complex health issues and spend more time in emergency rooms. Wu said 90 per cent of Saskatchewan seniors are discharged or admitted with 35 hours, compared to the national average of just under 33.

“What we’re seeing in our data is even though seniors only contribute to about 20 per cent of the (emergency department) visits, they contribute about half of the cases that require admission,” she said. 

Other factors pushing the province’s visit length higher include hospital processes at peak hours — evenings and weekends — and the time it takes hospital staff to turn over a bed after one patient is discharged and before another can be admitted, Wu said.

Another significant factor could be a shortage of primary health care — especially in rural and remote areas — which could result in more people with minor injuries, illnesses and other conditions clogging up the province’s emergency departments, Wu said.

“I think this wait time information is reflecting that there are people maybe suffering from less-life-threatening (issues) but at the same time still in pain and discomfort,” Wu said. “And any wait is too long, I think, from a patient’s perspective.”

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