Understanding Wait Times

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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers - Understanding Wait Times

What kind of information is now available about wait times in local Emergency Departments and Urgent Care Centres?

Current Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centres wait times and other information about usage are now available on Niagara Health System’s website and on monitors at our sites as part of our ongoing efforts to improve the patient experience and access to care.

Four key pieces of information are now available 24/7 to the public:

  • wait times to see a physician or nurse practitioner in our Emergency Departments and Urgent Care Centres;
  • the number of people currently registered and waiting;
  • the number of people currently being treated;
  • when the Emergency Department/Urgent Care Centre is busiest over the next six hours based on the previous 30 days (on the NHS website only).

Monitors in the Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centre waiting rooms display site specific wait times, while the NHS website includes wait times information for all of our Emergency Departments and Urgent Care Centres.

What do the patient numbers mean?

Waiting = The number of patients who have not yet had an initial assessment by a physician or nurse practitioner.

Treating = The number of patients who have had an initial assessment by a physician or nurse practitioner.

Why are you making this information available to the public?

Wait times in our Emergency Departments and Urgent Care Centres are among the most frequently asked questions by our patients and families.

Launching this new system reinforces our commitment to be transparent and accountable by communicating information in real time that will help those we serve make more informed decisions about their care.

For all medical emergencies call 9-1-1 (free from any cell or payphone). Emergency Departments treat patients with serious injuries and illness. Urgent Care Centres treat patients with minor injuries and illness.

What does the online wait time represent?

The online wait time reflects the most current estimate of how long it will take from the time you are assessed by a triage nurse in the Emergency Department or Urgent Care Centre until you are seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner. It is not a guarantee of the length of time patients will wait.

Why are wait times always changing?

Emergency demand can change quickly and dramatically depending on patient need. An incident such as a serious trauma can unexpectedly and significantly impact the wait time for others.

The wait time data is updated every 20 minutes, allowing us to provide the most current estimate of the wait time patients can expect to see a physician or nurse practitioner when and if they come to one of our Emergency Departments or Urgent Care Centres.

Why are other people being seen before me?

The sickest patients are always seen first to ensure they get the care they need, even though they may arrive at the Emergency Department after other patients. Patients with life- or limb-threatening injuries or illness are treated first, followed by those with less urgent illness or medical conditions.

All Canadian hospitals use the same standard tool to evaluate a patient’s medical urgency. A specially trained triage nurse assesses each patient’s condition upon arrival and prioritizes their medical need based on five triage levels, No. 1 being the most critical and No. 5 being non-urgent.

Should I use the online wait times to determine where I should go?

The online wait time tool is meant to give the public general information about wait times.

In the case of a serious emergency, always call 911. Urgent Care Centres are for minor injuries or illness.

If your medical problem isn’t urgent, you may want to consider alternatives other than the Emergency Department, such as Urgent Care Centres, family doctors’ offices or walk-in clinics. Using any of these options for minor medical issues helps alleviate pressure on Emergency Departments and reduces wait times for everyone.

Providing wait times on the NHS website is not medical advice or a recommendation that you choose a specific Emergency Department or Urgent Care Centre.

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Niagara Health System