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Edmonton must wait for online ER times

Officials with Alberta Health Services (AHS) say a new online service up and running in Calgary will make its way to the Edmonton region — eventually.

Officials with Alberta Health Services (AHS) say a new online service up and running in Calgary will make its way to the Edmonton region — eventually.

On Wednesday, the health superboard added real-time estimates on emergency room wait times in Calgary hospitals to its website.

But Dr. Cheri Nijssen-Jordan, the senior AHS medical lead, said Edmonton patients will have to hold their horses before local hospitals get the same treatment.

“We anticipate that Edmonton will be sometime in the next year,” Nijssen-Jordan said. “We can’t be more specific than that because we’ve got to do some process changes. Edmonton just got the linkage with the information system that we’ve had in Calgary for a couple of years now, so it takes a little bit of time to make sure the data is accurate and we can make the calculations.”

Ultimately, AHS’ goal is to roll out online wait-time calculators all across the province.

“Edmonton would be the next phase, the second phase would be the regional sites and the third phase would be the rural sites,” Nijssen-Jordan said.

The system calculates wait times — defined as the time it takes for a patient to see a physician after being assessed by a triage nurse — based on AHS’ emergency information system and the number of doctors and nurses on duty at the time.

“It takes the number of patients, takes their acuity — how serious they are — and we take the demand and link it with the capacity, which is the number of physicians on, and that will vary by site,” she said.

The wait times are updated every two minutes. On Wednesday, wait times on the AHS site ranged from 37 minutes at the Peter Lougheed Centre to two hours and nine minutes at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

Nijssen-Jordan stressed, however, that the times posted online are estimates and not the gospel truth; the sickest patients will always be seen first.

“They are estimates, so individual patients can’t go in and say, ‘It said one hour and 24 minutes; how come I didn’t get seen in one hour and 24 minutes?’” she said. “But we anticipate that we’ve worked out the accuracy pretty good — about 75 per cent of the time, we are within an hour of the estimation.”

The system has already generated a lot of interest and, based on that, Nijssen-Jordan hopes AHS will get a lot of feedback.

“When I told people we were going to be doing this this week, they all said, ‘Finally! It’s finally coming,’” she said. “It’s coming from the public, from health care providers and I think it’s a really positive thing in terms of transparency for the system.”

And, while the system has obvious benefits for patients looking to get treated quickly, Nijssen-Jordan said doctors and nurses are also hoping it takes some of the load off them.

“The big benefit is that we get some levelling of the load from one [emergency] department to another,” she said. “A couple of times we’ve seen in the past, we’ll have one or two of our departments in a relatively small area … and you get one that’s really overloaded because they have a couple of really serious patients, but the others are ticking right along. It allows the load to level between the different departments and that should then increase the efficiency and hopefully the effectiveness across all the departments. And that would make all the docs and nurses very happy.”

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