What to do about emergency wait times in Quebec

We need to take health care out of the hands of government and put it in the hands of health care providers, the patients and their care-givers, writes Dr. Mitch Shulman.

Once again wait times in Quebec emergency rooms (ERs) have hit the headlines. We’re the worst in the Western World! On the one hand we can wait for the bureaucracy to step in and try to fix things (which they’ve obviously failed to do so far) or we can take matters into our own hands.

There’s a lot that can be done to reduce waiting times in our emergency rooms. The fact that many hospitals in Quebec have succeeded (according to the latest stats), shows that it can be done even here in Quebec.

It’s not money. There’s more than enough already within the system. We need to take health care out of the hands of government. Governments really have only a few years’ perspective — from budget to budget, from health minister to health minister. Instead put it in the hands of health care providers — nurses, technicians, pharmacists, social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, doctors and health care users, the patients and their care-givers. Create an arm’s length crown corporation for example; make it responsible for health care. Give it a guaranteed budget for five years and let it manage that budget with patient health outcomes as the driving force.

Those hospitals that have succeeded in limiting emergency wait times have taken a patient-centered focus and used that focus to drive the necessary changes. We can do that at any hospital, at any time.

In the meantime, each of us can try to limit going to the emergency room. Find out now, before you need it, what clinics are in your area; what their hours of operation are; and, if they can do lab tests and X-rays.

Use Info Santé to figure out if your problems can wait until the clinic is open or if you need to go to the emerg right away. Only call an ambulance if it’s needed. Urgence Santé decides on their own which hospitals are open or closed without necessarily knowing what’s really going on in the hospital’s emergency room. So you may be well known at the Jewish General Hospital, for example, but Urgence Santé will claim it’s closed and then take you to the Montreal General Hospital where you have no file, delaying your care and contributing to the delays in the emergency room while we spend extra time trying to figure out what’s already known at the other hospital.

The key for you is to be prepared in advance. Know what resources are available and how to get the best value out of them.

As for the emergency rooms and their long wait times, let’s take this whole issue out of the hands of government and give it back to the people who are most affected.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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