Emergency Room wait times rise in Quebec: study

Patients across Quebec experienced longer wait times in emergency rooms in from 2018 to 2019 according to an analysis by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI).

"In Quebec, we have the longest waiting time in the industrialized world—and the rest of Canada is not doing that great either," said MEI Senior Associate Analyst Patrick Dery.

The MEI analysis reports an increase in ER wait times compared to prior years, although fewer patients were treated in the 2018-2019 fiscal year compared to the previous year.

Other recent reports have pointed to ER wait times having improved, but the MEI says it depends on how you look at the data.

The earlier reports pointing to a nearly two-hour drop in waiting times and the findings by the MEI use the same data from the same source: Quebec's Health Ministry.

However the other reports used 'average' length of stay while the MEI focused on the 'median' length of stay.

The MEI says using median versus average figures better represents what patients are facing in emergency rooms.

According to the MEI, the increased wait times for 2018-2019 were as follows:

  • Patients on stretchers waited 14 minutes longer
  • Wait times for ambulatory patients increased by two minutes
  • For all patients combined the wait was five minutes longer

Dery acknowledges the increases are not huge but he says they add up over time.

"Minutes add up to hours," he said. "It's difficult to imagine a scenario where things will get better as the population is getting older."

Dery says the MEI analysis shows the effects of healthcare spending cuts and ministerial directives by the former Liberal government.

How can we fix the problem? Dery thinks Quebec needs to introduce 'entrepreneurship' into the management of hospitals.

"If you look at the European health care systems, you have, in addition to publicly-managed hospitals, privately-managed hospitals to treat patients more efficiently," he said, adding that patients face no additional costs in those countries to access the for-profit hospitals.

Patients' rights advocate Paul Brunet says adding privately-owned hospitals would only help if all Quebecers had access to them.

He also says Quebec needs to do more to provide people with easier access to a physician.

"How come we have a record-high [number of registered patients] towards a family doctor and we still have that many ambulatory patients at emergency [rooms]?" said Brunet.