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albertapatients.ca Survey Suggests More Information Needed About Emergency Departments

(EDMONTON) Albertans tend to believe wait times in hospital Emergency Departments (EDs) are too long, but their perceptions are not always in keeping with their own experiences according to a recent survey conducted by albertapatients.ca.  The survey fielded September/October among a representative sample of Alberta patients further notes that while people generally understand the processes of the EDs, there are gaps in information which can create frustration. This is important as experiences with and perceptions of ED wait times tend to influence perceptions of all elements of patient care.


The exploratory October study suggests that there is an opportunity to better inform patients at multiple points:


  • While waiting in the ED
  • The decision to visit the ED
  • Arrival at the ED


Detailed findings from the survey include:


  • Alberta patients generally understand the processes of the ED, but lack enough information about how patients are prioritized and seen – which impacts their expectations and experience.
    • Although nearly all Alberta patients understand that high priority patients are seen first in a hospital emergency department, only about half (53%) correctly identified that patients are always seen in order of priority (regardless of arrival time), whereas the remainder believe that there is at least some aspect of first-come, first-served driving the order in which patients receive emergency care.
    • When asked how the estimated wait time was communicated while they were in the ED waiting room, 7 in 10 Alberta patients do not recall how or if they were ever given a wait time estimate after arrival at the hospital.
    • Only 1 in 10 patients feel that the estimated wait time was updated frequently enough during their ED wait.
    • Nearly 3/4 (73%) patients reported that their assessed priority level was never communicated to them by a nurse or medical staff member – including 45% of patients who waited less than one hour to see a doctor.
    • In the absence of information to the contrary, most patients (58%) tend to believe that their own condition is more serious than others in the ED, which likely contributes to frustration.


  • Patients waiting in EDs have a desire for more information about the wait – e.g., how many patients (at what priority) are ahead of them, understanding the nature of triage and how their condition fits into that prioritization (i.e., why others are being seen before them), and the number of doctors on shift.


  • Wait times have a direct impact on ALL aspects of the ED experience in terms of rated performance – the longer the wait, the less satisfaction.
    • When asked to rate their last experience in an emergency department waiting room overall, 43% said they had a positive experience, 33% felt neutral, and 23% said their experience was either poor or very poor.
    • Patient assessments of overall experience (and particularly key aspects such as care received, patient monitoring and being in the waiting room) diverged after factoring in the amount of time waited during the last ED visit – especially among those who waited 4+ hours to see a doctor.


  • Nearly all (98%) of Alberta patients have experienced a wait in a hospital emergency department in Alberta at some point, and 45% last waited in an ED within the past 6 months.
    • Based upon last visit experiences, 72% reported seeing a doctor within 3 hours of arrival, with the typical ED wait falling between 1-3 hours.


  • Compared to their expectations of timely care in Alberta’s health care system, 8 in 10 Alberta patients feel that emergency department wait times are longer than they should be.
    • Expectations about wait times appear to be influenced by when patients last visited an ED: 92% of patients who last accessed emergency services 1-2 years ago feel that wait times are long, compared to only 77% of those who visited an ED within the past 6 months.
    • Perceptions about emergency wait times are primarily driven by personal experiences (66%), supplemented largely by the experiences of family and friends.


  • Perceptions and experiences with ED wait times have real implications.
    • Over half (51%) of Alberta patients have at some point in the past NOT gone to the ED with a condition requiring urgent care, and many instead self-medicate.
    • More women (56%) than men (46%) have decided against visiting an ED.
    • A plurality of those who have avoided the ED cite wait times as the primary reason.
    • Many Albertans have also avoided the ED due to issues related to lack of clarity about whether a visit is warranted: roughly one-quarter say they didn’t go to the ED because they didn’t want their condition minimized, or because they are frustrated by seeing individuals waiting in emergency who shouldn’t be there.



To view the detailed findings, follow the link: albertapatients ED Release



About albertapatients


These findings are drawn from research conducted on behalf of the Alberta Medical Association for its albertapatients initiative – an online community that provides Albertans the opportunity to provide input and feedback into the province’s health care system, and help shape the future of health care in Alberta through regular professionally executed survey research. This initiative also acts as a conduit for Alberta’s doctors to update patients about what’s going on in health care delivery, and report on findings from the survey research. This study was designed and conducted in response to interest expressed by albertapatients community members.


Research findings should be directly attributed to albertpatients.ca



Survey Methodology


These are findings of an albertapatients.ca survey conducted on behalf of the Alberta Medical Association. ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. is a Canadian-based independent public opinion consultancy, and is the Alberta Medical Association’s research partner in the operation of albertapatients.ca.


The Study was fielded via a representative online research panel sample (albertapatients) between September 29th and October 9th, 2016. Participants are Alberta residents over the age of 18, and the sample has been weighted to reflect the gender, age and regional distribution of Albertans who have used the healthcare system within the past 12 months. A total of 1350 interviews were conducted for the survey. The online methodology utilizes a representative but non-random sample therefore margin of error is not applicable. However, a probability sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.






Shannon Rupnarain

Assistant Executive Director, Public Affairs

Alberta Medical Association




Marc Henry

Research Director, albertapatients.ca