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How to avoid the ER 'surge' in southwestern Ontario this holiday season

December doesn’t just bring holiday cheer — it also brings skyrocketing demand for health care, according to the South West Local Health Integration Network.

Hospitals see 150 more ER visits per day between Christmas and New Year's, South West LHIN says

Parents should be prepared for longer wait times in the emergency room at B.C. Children's Hospital during the holiday season. (CBC)

December doesn't just bring holiday cheer — it also brings skyrocketing demand for health care, according to the South West Local Health Integration Network.

Hospitals in the region log an average of 150 extra ER visits each day between Christmas and New Year's.

Dr. Amit Shah, the emergency medicine lead for the South West LHIN, told CBC News it's not unusual to see increases as high as 30 per cent during this holiday "surge" period.

"We see more of what I believe is being referred to as 'hallway medicine' and that's something that all of us would like to avoid," Dr. Shah said.

The South West LHIN says influenza and seasonal injuries like fractures tend to drive up demand for health care.

At the same time, health care providers might be closed or have different hours during the holidays, meaning more people end up in the ER even if they don't require immediate emergency care.

Patients are going to the emergency departments not recognizing their family doctor is providing after hours access.- Dr. Amit Shah, South West LHIN

Dr. Shah, who has worked in hospitals in London and St. Thomas, says emergency departments often see people who could have received care elsewhere.

"We have the family docs telling us that they have after hours clinics sometimes that aren't fully attended by patients, and their patients are going to the emergency departments not recognizing their family doctor is providing after hours access."

One way to avoid the ER during the holidays is to get your flu shot. The South West LHIN says it's the best defence against influenza, particularly for those vulnerable to serious complications. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

'A limited resource'

To avoid getting caught up in the holiday surge, Dr. Shah recommends people get their annual flu shot.

He also suggests they check the hours and availability of other health care providers in their area.

The South West LHIN encourages the public to use the "Holiday Hours" page on Southwesthealthline.ca to find walk-in clinics or community pharmacies with extended hours.

Dr, Shah adds that it's always good to be prepared and fill prescriptions or book appointments before access becomes limited during the holidays.

"Our entire health care system is a valuable resource and it's a limited resource for all of us, so we should treat it as such," he said.

Other holiday health tips from the South West LHIN

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer to help keep the flu virus from spreading.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or your upper sleeve when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your face to keep the virus from entering your body through your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you're sick.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and shared items.
  • Call your family doctor or nurse practitioner or visit a walk-in clinic if your symptoms become a concern.
  • Don't forget that pharmacies can provide helpful services like emergency supplies of medicine over the holidays.

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