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Quebec Emergency Rooms: Fewer Patients, Longer Waits

Montreal, August 21, 2019 – A publication launched today by the MEI shows that waiting times in Quebec emergency rooms continue to increase, despite a reduction in the number of patients treated in 2018-2019. The data collected by the Department of Health run counter to information that circulated earlier this year according to which the situation in emergency rooms had improved.

Whereas the media have long measured emergency room wait times using the average length of stay, the median length of stay is more representative of the experience of patients, since it prevents extreme data points from distorting the real picture. Emergency room stays thus increased as follows in 2018-2019:

  • Fourteen minutes more for patients on stretchers (total of 9.4 hours);
  • Two minutes more for ambulatory patients (total of 3.3 hours);
  • Five minutes more for all patients combined (total of 4.6 hours).

“These increases in length of stay are not enormous, but they add up. The other problem is the observed trend. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars injected into the system each year, and multiple reforms, governments are unable to reverse the trend,” says Patrick Déry, Senior Associate Analyst at the MEI.

Moreover, this is occurring while the total number of patients is falling. In 2018-2019, the total number of emergency room visits in fact decreased by 1.7%. It’s not that the cases became more complicated to treat, either: The number of patients aged 75 and over increased last year, by 1.7%, but that’s less than in previous years (4.9% and 5.9%). And the number of more urgent cases continued to fall or increased less than before.

“Given the aging of the population and the growing needs that will make themselves felt in the coming years, the performance of the health care system is worrisome. If wait times are increasing when the number of visits is going down, how is the system going to be able to cope with an aging population?” asks Mr. Déry.

Even though the challenges facing the Quebec health care system are not new, public decision-makers are slow to implement remedies that have proven their worth in other industrialized countries. Across the Western world, whether in Germany, in France, or in Australia, universal coverage is accompanied by an embrace of entrepreneurship.

“The evidence is clear that the search for profit can exist in a universal health care system and be of significant benefit to patients. We would do well to take inspiration from what works best in comparable countries, and even from what already works here, like pilot projects for surgeries in the Montreal region,” concludes the analyst.

The Viewpoint entitled “Emergency Rooms: Fewer Patients, Longer Waits” was prepared by Patrick Déry, Senior Associate Analyst at the MEI. This publication is available on our website.

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The MEI is an independent public policy think tank. Through its publications and media appearances, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing reforms based on market principles and entrepreneurship.

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Interview requests: Daniel Dufort, Director of External Affairs, MEI. Tel.: 514-273-0969 ext. 2224 / Cell. 438-886-9919 / Email: ddufort@iedm.org


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