P.E.I. hospitals scrap their ER wait-time notices
'What we don't want to see is patients look at wait-time boards online and decide not to come'
The emergency departments at Prince Edward Island's three busiest hospitals are no longer providing Islanders with expected wait times for treatment, either online or on screens in the ERs.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, Prince County Hospital in Summerside and Kings County Memorial Hospital in Montague removed the information a few weeks into their response to the COVID-19 pandemic this winter, says QEH emergency room nurse manager Mike MacDonald.
"The processes that we put in place at the QEH really kind of made the wait-time boards inaccurate," MacDonald said, noting the emergency department was divided between those with respiratory symptoms and those without, which would have required two waiting lists.
The second reason, he said, was that the boards were not meeting patients' expectations for accuracy. People were seeing wait times online, then arriving at the hospital to find them longer.
'Not that bad'?
The final reason is one hospital ERs struggle with every day, MacDonald said.
"What we don't want to see is patients look at wait-time boards online and decide not to come to the emergency department when they actually truly need emergency care," he said.
Screening patients at the front door when they come, there's always a little bit of a delay.— Mike MacDonald
Even with things as serious as stroke symptoms, he said patients sometimes look at online wait times and decide, "Oh, it's really not that bad, I'll come tomorrow." This is "really concerning to us as a department," MacDonald said.
The monitors had been in place for almost a decade. They were originally installed to try to reduce wait times and give patients up-to-the-minute information on how long they might have to wait for treatment, to cut down on people leaving in frustration.
The wait-time monitors may eventually come back when the pandemic is over, MacDonald said; that will be discussed with Health PEI and the provincial emergency quality team.
Wait times back to normal
MacDonald said people were anxious and sometimes fearful to come to emergency departments when the pandemic first hit Canada in March, and the volume of patients at the QEH emergency department dropped to about half of what's normal, along with wait times to be seen by a doctor. But now, he said, people are returning to ERs and wait times are back up to where they were.
"The volumes have gone back up, people are more comfortable coming, and some of the processes that we have in place — like having to put gowns, gloves, masks on for every patient — kind of slows that process," he said.
"Screening patients at the front door when they come, there's always a little bit of a delay — not like 10, 20, 30 minutes, but certainly all these little minutes add up over time."
MacDonald stressed that visiting emergency departments is safe, and urged those who need emergency care not to hesitate to come.
The hospitals are asking patients coming to ER to bring their own masks, but if they are unable to do that, masks will be provided.
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With files from Wayne Thibodeau