Lakeridge Health launches tracker that shows wait times at its 4 Durham Region emergency rooms
Online tool comes ahead of what might be challenging winter with COVID-19, flu, official says
People who live in Durham Region can now check an online dashboard that will tell them how long they will have to wait to see a doctor when they go to an emergency room in their communities.
Lakeridge Health, an integrated regional health system that serves Durham Region, has launched what it calls an "Emergency Department Wait Times Tracker." The web-based tool tracks approximate wait times in emergency rooms in four of its hospitals east of Toronto.
Ilan Lenga, chief information officer at Lakeridge Health, said the health-care system developed the tracker ahead of what may be a challenging winter. He said there is the possibility of another COVID-19 wave and a tough flu season as the pandemic continues, something Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore echoed Thursday when he appealed to Ontarians to get vaccinated against both ailments.
"I think we want to commit to transparency and show the public what our wait times are at any given time," Lenga said on Thursday.
"Sometimes, we're doing better with wait times than people believe and sometimes worse. It is a prolonged wait and they ought to know."
Lenga said the tracker will give patients a better understanding of how long they are going to wait to see an emergency room doctor. He said it will help manage their expectations before they go to the hospital, and it will allow them to consider alternatives to the emergency room, such as going to an urgent care clinic or visiting their primary care physician.
He said the wait times, which are now public, will enable patients to see the different wait times across the four hospitals, which will give them information to make a decision about which emergency department is the best option.
The tool tracks wait times at Ajax Pickering, Bowmanville, Oshawa, and Port Perry hospitals. Lakeridge Health has five hospitals, four emergency departments, a long-term care home and more than 30 community health-care locations.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health had no specific comment on the tracker, but acknowledged the need "to address the urgent pressures of today while preparing for a potential fall and winter surge."
The government is continuing to add new health care workers to the systems, the spokesperson said, "so that care is there for those who need it."
Tracker won't solve staffing shortages, official says
Lakeridge Health said the wait times do not apply to people experiencing a medical emergency and they will get immediate attention.
Lenga said the tracker doesn't solve staffing shortages that have led to emergency room wait times, but it will help with what he calls "load-balancing" — that is, an attempt by the health system to alleviate pressure on its emergency departments by distributing demand among its various hospitals.
As for this winter, Lakeridge Health is expecting its emergency departments to be busy. The demand will come as the health system deals with staffing issues, he said. This past summer, it temporarily closed its intensive care unit at the Bowmanville Hospital for weeks due to significant staffing shortages.
"We are on alert about the possibility of another wave of COVID. Also, internationally, we are hearing that this is likely to be a tough flu season," he said.
"We may have the combination of an ongoing health human resource crisis, which is international, at the same time as a heavy season. We are planning for that, giving due consideration as to how to mitigate it as best as possible, but it is a thorny problem."
Lenga said the tracker is similar to flight information display systems that are set up at airports and it's all about improving patient experience and customer service.
He also said it is similar to the online emergency room wait time clocks provided by Markham Stouffville Hospital, which is part of Oak Valley Health, and the William Osler Health Network, which includes Brampton Civic Hospital and Etobicoke General Hospital. At Markham Stouffville, the estimated wait time provided is after triage.
Both the hospital and network have received positive feedback from the public, he said, and that was an incentive for Lakeridge Health to launch the tracker.
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coaltion, said the tracker is a good idea, but wait times are "impossible."
Mehra said the information will enable people to go to different hospitals with shorter wait times.but the real problem is inadequate provincial government spending on health care. The coalition, a grassroots network of more than 400 member organizations, says its goal is to protect and improve the public health care system.
"Ontario needs to put money into care, into reopening closed hospital beds, reopening closed hospital services, attracting staff back and dealing with a very severe staffing shortage that we have right now that has led to the crisis we are in. And it's just not happening," Mehra said.
"An app is nice, but it doesn't solve the problem."
With files from Meg Roberts and Muriel Draaisma
To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.
By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.
Become a CBC Account Holder
Join the conversation Create account
Already have an account?