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The Worst Emergency Room Wait Times in Canada

Here are the provinces that suffer from the longest emergency room wait times in Canada and what you, as a patient, can do to wait for less.

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We The Patients

We Canadians may be notoriously polite, but as emergency room patients, our patience is running out…at least it should be. Medical wait times are at an all-time high and, no, universal healthcare isn’t the culprit. In fact, a 2016-2017 study by the Canadian Institute of Health Information and the Commonwealth Fund compared ER wait times in 11 countries with access to universal healthcare—Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States—and revealed that Canada didn’t just rank low, it was literally the worst.

Nearly 30 percent of patients coast to coast wait more than four hours—four hours!!!—to see a doctor in the ER. Of course, the holding periods depend on the severity of your emergency, but they also vary from province to province. How long are you likely to wait according to where you reside? Here’s where the wait times are the worst. (Find out if the answer to Canada’s healthcare issues could be more operating rooms.)

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5th Worst: New Brunswick

Likelihood of waiting 4+ hours for care: 28.1%
Scary Story: While waiting 8 hours to see a doctor isn’t atypical here, this March a woman who waited 11 hours in excruciating pain with what she thought was a hernia was seen by doctors too late, and passed away the following morning.

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4th Worst: Prince Edward Island

Likelihood of waiting 4+ hours for care: 28.2%

Scary story: This May, 18 Fredericton ER doctors, supported by physician assistants, spoke out about the scary state of affairs: People lined up in hallways, 20-hour wait times, and as for the most urgent emergencies, it’s an average of two hours till they’re in triage.

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3rd Worst: Manitoba

Likelihood of waiting 4+ hours for care: 29.9%

Scary story: While Manitoba has improved its ER wait times over the past year, it still ranks among Canada’s worst, churning out evidence of hospitals so over-capacity that visits can not only exceed 16 hours, but also provide standing room only while you wait.

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2nd Worst: Newfoundland & Labrador

Likelihood of waiting 4+ hours for care: 38.9%

Scary story: Last spring, news spread about an 81-year-old diabetic woman from Labrador waiting in emergency for more than 10 hours with a broken arm before giving up and leaving without seeing a doctor. (She was seen the next morning upon her return.)

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The Very Worst Wait Times in Canada: Quebec

Likelihood of waiting 4+ hours for care: 51.2%

Scary story: In Quebec, the emergency physician shortage is so great that some hospitals report having dozens of shifts with zero—that’s right, ZERO!—doctors on duty.  In 2017, the CBC reported that in the first quarter alone, one hospital had more than 26 shifts without even one emergency physician on duty.

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What gives?

Every emergency department has its own unique web of problems that extend average wait times, from dated technology to volume of patients and the care they need in any given area. But one of the main issues is the fact that Canada suffers from a significant shortage of medical professionals, with a scant 2.7 physicians for every 1,000 people (a number that ranks us 29th out of 33 developed countries).

More than half—57 percent—of ailing Canadians cannot secure same or next-day appointments with their physicians, and more and more are going to the ER with non-emergencies due to a lack of other options. (Not sure if you should go to the ER? Read this.) In fact, 41.1 percent of emergency room patients feel that whatever brought them in could have been addressed by a family doctor if they had one. (Know what doctors secretly wish they could tell you.)

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How to whittle down your wait times

  1. Find a family doctor—and please stop using the ER for non-urgent issues. If you have a relationship with your family doctor, they can often squeeze you in within a few days if the issue is urgent.
  2. Consider other options. If your doctor is unavailable, consider an Urgent Care Centre, After-Hours Clinic or Children’s After-Hours Clinic instead heading straight to the Emerg.
  3. Help the doctors and nurses help you…and then get on to helping others. Arrive with your health card and ID in hand and write down the name of your family doctor, relevant specialists, a list of your medications and any questions you have.
  4. Check if your local government or hospital posts current wait times. This helpful service isn’t offered everywhere, but we found helpful sites for Quebec, Vancouver, Winnipeg, PEI and Alberta.

Read next: Are extreme hospital wait times failing Canadians?