That was the average wait time in November, according to the latest statistics from Ontario Health. Only 23% of patients were admitted within eight hours, meeting the provincial target time. Doctors across Canada are sounding similar alarms: “Feeling helpless at 4 am,” wrote one Alberta physician on social media in December. “My beds are full of sick patients waiting to go upstairs to a full hospital.” Meanwhile a Nova Scotia doctor warned his ER was operating at 360% capacity.
What’s behind the ongoing ER wait time crisis?
Patients have nowhere else to go.
An estimated 6.5 million Canadians don’t have a family doctor. One-third of people who do find it difficult to book an appointment. Without access to primary care, seeking treatment may be delayed, leading to sicker patients and emergency room overcrowding.
There aren’t enough beds.
Due to hospital overcrowding, health workers are resorting more and more to "hallway health care" while patients wait to be admitted. Exacerbating the situation is the number of acute hospital beds occupied by older adults waiting for placement in long-term care facilities. Physicians struggle to find the right resources and services to help keep these patients at home, or to discharge them when they end up requiring hospital care.
Doctors are suffering from record burnout.
Rolling closures of ERs are becoming all too common because of staff shortages, especially in rural and remote areas. Health care workers struggle under untenable conditions, which drives burnout. The result is high staff turnover, and a lack of retention and recruitment. Some doctors are opting to reduce hours, retire early, or leave medicine entirely — increasing the demand for services even further, with less support.
Mounting paperwork is causing an invisible crisis.
Seventy-five percent of doctors have said their administrative workload is an impediment to caring for their patients impacting job satisfaction. Administrative burden in medicine is also linked to rising rates of burnout among physicians — particularly among family doctors (see primary care crisis above) who bear the brunt of paperwork.