Answer – Health Literacy Pop Quiz

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What’s the average wait time to see a doctor at a Canadian Emergency Department?

Should you call the Emegency Department (ED) to ask what the wait time is or with health questions to see if you need to come in?


Across the nation, the average time from when you arrive to the ED to when you will see a doctor is over three hours.4

(Canadian Institute for Health Information. NACRS Emergency Department Visits and Length of Stay by Province/Territory, 2018–2019. Ottawa, ON: CIHI, 2019. Table 9)

Do Not Call Ahead
If you are uncertain about going to your local ED it might be tempting to call and find out what the wait time is. Please don’t!

• The person who answers will probably be a clerk, not a medical professional, and will not be able to give you a specific answer. They will also not be able to provide any medical advice.

• The ED doesn’t take reservations like a restaurant.

• The situation can change in a flash. Even if it’s taking two hours to see a doctor when you call, by the time you arrive the wait could be one hour or five hours!

• Please note that due to privacy and confidentiality, the ED staff cannot provide detailed information about patients, even if they are your loved one, over the phone. We also have no way to know for certain who is calling.

These are excerpts from PART 1: THINKING OF GOING TO THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT? and one of the many useful sidebars it contains and PART 2: HURRY UP… AND WAIT in a section called “Why Am I Waiting So Long?”

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