Study shows benefits of Hamilton’s emergency wait times website
A website that tracks Hamilton’s emergency wait times has been effective at reducing patient wait times and increasing overall efficiency across the city’s seven emergency departments and urgent care centres, according to a recent study.
The website – www.hamiltonemergencywaittimes.ca – was launched by St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and Hamilton Health Sciences in December 2019. It shows individual wait times for seven emergency departments and urgent care centres in Hamilton, along with graphs illustrating the average hourly patient volume. Information about the type of care provided at each location is also shown.
Patients seeking care in an emergency department can use the website to find locations with the lowest wait times across the city. However, those with severe illness and dangerous presentations (including chest pain, severe bleeding, acute mental health challenges, etc.) should always head to the nearest emergency department or call 9-1-1.
“Our findings suggest that online wait time trackers may have a greater effect on patients who require lower-acuity care, such as walk-in treatments”
The study was led by Dr. Shawn Mondoux, a staff physician and quality lead in St. Joe’s emergency department and an affiliate of The Research Institute of St. Joe’s Hamilton. Dr. Mondoux and his team of clinician-researchers assessed outcomes related to the wait times website. They analyzed the number of new patients arriving every 15 minutes at each location, before and after the implementation of the website.
Researchers found that when the average wait time increased by 60 minutes, patient volume over the following hour would drop by an average of 10 percent – a phenomenon that was not observed until after the wait time data was publicly accessible. This effect was more pronounced in community hospitals (e.g., West Lincoln Memorial Hospital) and urgent care centres (e.g., St. Joe’s Urgent Care Centre on King Street).
“Our findings suggest that online wait time trackers may have a greater effect on patients who require lower-acuity care, such as walk-in treatments,” said Dr. Mondoux. “There may also be added utility during the pandemic, allowing patients to reduce their time spent waiting in crowded emergency rooms or urgent care centres and thereby reducing potential exposure to COVID-19.”
The study was published in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine on June 17, 2021.
“Sharing wait times information supports a more informed, empowered patient journey”
Locations listed on the website, and subsequently included in the study, include St. Joseph’s Charlton Campus, Hamilton General Hospital, Juravinski Hospital, McMaster Children’s Hospital, West Lincoln Memorial Hospital, the Urgent Care Centre at St. Joe’s King Campus, and the Urgent Care Centre on Main Street West.
“Sharing wait times information supports a more informed, empowered patient journey,” said Dr. Kuldeep Sidhu, Chief of Emergency Medicine at HHS.
Future studies and quality improvements for Hamilton’s emergency wait times website are currently planned or already underway. For instance, researchers are now looking to understand how distance from emergency and urgent care sites affects patient wait time upon arrival. Other possible factors that may influence wait time or site selection are also being studied, including past experiences with specific hospitals and even patients’ postal codes.
In terms of quality improvement, the website’s development team is planning to enhance the accuracy of its predictive wait times by applying machine learning algorithms and other methods.
Developers have also added the ability for patients to request a virtual appointment with an emergency department physician through the wait times website. This option is intended for urgent yet non-life-threatening medical issues.
Since April 2020, Hamilton Health Sciences’ West End Clinic and Urgent Care Centre was temporarily removed from the wait times website as it was being used as a COVID-19 assessment centre. As of August 3, 2021, the West End Clinic has reopened to urgent care patients and wait times will soon be listed online once again.