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ER backups mean more deaths -- Ontario study

A new research study based on 14 million patients who visited Ontario hospital emergency rooms concludes  that showing up at an emergency department during shifts with longer waiting times is associated with a greater risk in the short term of death and admission to hospital.

The findings provide strong support for policies targeting reductions in length of stay in emergency departments. 

The increasing risk to patients associated with increasing length of stay in an emergency department suggests that any reductions, regardless of magnitude, could benefit a wide array of patients. In our analysis, reducing mean length of stay by an average of one hour could have potentially decreased the number of deaths in our study in higher acuity patients (8625) by 558 (6.5%) and in lower acuity patients (2054) by 261 (12.7%). Further research needs to evaluate whether these benefits are in fact seen when waiting times are decreased.
Emergency rooms in Ontario often back up when there are no hospital acute car beds available. Ontario has fewer acute care beds per capita than any developed nation and hospital bed occupancy in Ontario has risen to an extraordinary 97.9%.

The Ontario study appears in line with a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association which concluded that diverting patients from overcrowded hospital Emergency Rooms (ERs) is linked to a 3 percent higher risk of death for heart attack patients. 


  1. Good information Doug. I'm sure closing ERs completely in Port Colborne and Fort Erie in Regional Niagara adds to these problems. On top of that the Niagara Health System has also cut around 100 beds and frontline staff. These cuts leave our ERs with way above provincial average waittimes. An NHS report in April 2011 acknowledged their average waittimes from ER to a bed was 59.6 hours. NHS bed occupancy rates are 100% according to NHS CEO Sue Matthews.



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