Going to the ER? Real-time hospital emergency wait times now online

Dec 19 2017, 3:22 pm

An online tool might make your next hospital emergency admittance wait time shorter and, hopefully, less painful. In an attempt to make the most efficient use of the region’s hospital resources and to improve patient flow, local Vancouver health authorities are making their real-time emergency room wait times dashboard publicly accessible online.

The system currently lists the wait times of five of the region’s most busiest emergency departments: Downtown Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver General Hospital, Vancouver’s Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, North Vancouver’s Lions Gate Hospital, and Richmond Hospital. More regional hospitals will be added to the viewable online system when more funding is made available for the project.

The system was originally designed specifically for paramedic and hospital staff use only. The average wait times listed on the website are based on the wait times of the emergency departments’ non-critically ill patients (critically ill patients are always seen immediately). The times are in real-time, updated every five minutes.

On the website, two sets of wait times are given for each hospital emergency room: the first set “displays the most current average wait time based on the last hour” and the second set “displays how long 90% of the people arriving [in the ER] have waited to see a doctor,” based on the last ten patients. The wait time for an incoming patient is within the range of these two times, although emergency demand can always change quickly and dramatically with incidents such as a serious car accident.

Given that some emergency rooms and urgent care clinics have certain operating hours, the system also displays whether the facility is open or not.

An example of the Emergency Room Wait Times Dashboard: On Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 1:36 AM, the emergency department at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital was not open. At this time in the early-morning, Downtown Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital had the shortest estimated wait time while Richmond Hospital offered the longest.


For your next trip to the hospital, if you are not in a critical situation and are walking yourself into the emergency department, check www.edwaittimes.ca to try to avoid long wait times to see a doctor. Another hospital might be a better alternative for you. The website is also optimized for mobile phone access.

If you are seeking serious medical attention (chest pain, severe bleeding, stroke symptoms), always call 9-11.

Some other helpful information for your next emergency room visit (taken from www.edwaittimes.ca):

  • Most emergency departments get busy starting around 10:00 AM and stay busy until 10:00 PM;
  • Most emergency departments are about 10% busier on Mondays. This may be due to the inability for people to get in touch with their physicians over the weekend;
  • The emergency department does not work on a first come, first served system. It is important to know that critical patients will be seen first, whether they arrive on their own or via ambulance. Upon arrival in the department, you will be assessed using the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS). You will be seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner based on that assessment. In simple terms, the sickest patients will be seen most quickly;
  • Taking an ambulance to hospital does not impact the time it takes to see a doctor. In general, sicker patients arrive by ambulance service. You will be seen by the doctor based on how sick you are. If patients are equally sick, they will be seen in the order in which they arrive in the emergency department.
  • The length of time you will spend in the Emergency Department depends on how long it takes to see a physician and what kinds of tests and treatments you require in the ED. For example, it usually takes about 60 minutes to get the results of a blood test. A simple x-ray usually adds about 30 minutes to your stay. A CT scan can add anywhere from 1 to 5 hours, especially if it requires additional measures before it is performed and interpreted. Sometimes, you will need observation in the ED to insure that the treatments you received are helping and/or the nature of your problem will allow the doctor to discharge you home. About half of all ED patients with minor problems will be discharged home within two hours and about half of those with more major problems will stay for 4 hours.


Written by Kenneth Chan, the Deputy Editor at Vancity Buzz. Follow Kenneth on Twitter at @kjmagine.

VIDEO: It is easy to see why the emergency department, or ED (ER), is the “star” of the show in health care. Learn how BC’s emergency department system was designed to work, and what changes are being made to improve it today and for years to come.


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