WINNIPEG – It’s a new explanation for one of Manitoba’s most infamous problems: long ER wait times.
A new study finds diagnostic testing and not the number of beds available is the biggest reason for our long waits.
The study, done by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy at the University of Manitoba, finds the number of different tests required for patients are having a major impact on the time it takes to get people through our emergency departments.
More than half of patients admitted to the ER need a test like a CT scan, X-ray or urine test. The time it takes for doctors to decide on which tests are needed, order them, get the tests done and interpret the results is the biggest reason for long waits, according to the study.
Lead author, Dr. Malcolm Doupe, says its proof that solving the problem will take more than just adding more space in our hospitals.
“Our entire health care system, I think, is trying to grapple with what does reform mean. Is it more of the same or doing somethings differently? There’s lots of examples why, and this is a great one, doing things differently is the way to go.”
Doupe says it will be up to medical professionals to find solutions. Dr. Alecs Chochinov, head of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Emergency Program says the entire medical community has seen a major shift towards more testing in the last few decades.
“If you came in with appendicitis 30 years ago, you would go to the OR, they would open you up, twenty per cent of cases would be needed and we accepted that,” he says. “With the advent of CT scans, everybody needs a CT scan…is that bad? No. It’s the standard of care now but I think we have to accept those type of things necessarily lead to delays.”
Chochinov does admit there could be changes to standards for testing and work could be done to streamline the process.
Another possible solution could be to make changes to some of our six emergency existing emergency rooms. A previous review of our health care system, ordered by the old NDP government, argued we may not need six fully acute emergency departments. Some could be converted to deal with patients suffering from less serious conditions. That would allow the remaining emergency departments to have the best possible testing equipment.
Chochinov says ensuring our hospitals have access to the best equipment would go a long way towards easing the problem.
The study finds 612 people, on average, visit emergency rooms in Winnipeg every day. That’s according to the latest available data from 2013. It is up about 12 per cent from 2003.
The average ER wait time, according to the data, is roughly five hours.
The study found that only about one per cent of people visiting the ER are dealing with “very high urgency” conditions. More than 80 per cent of those who show up are not dealing with truly life or death situations.