Background — Evidence suggests emergency department (ED) overcrowding is associated with poor health outcomes. Children comprise 20–25% of general ED visits, yet few studies have examined the differential impact of ED overcrowding on pediatric and adult populations.
Objective — The primary objective of this study was to compare flow measures, such as wait time to see a physician, length of stay (LOS), and rate of patients leaving without being seen by a physician (LWBS) between adults and children in British Columbia and Ontario, clustered by province, and then stratified by acuity level during the study period.
Methods — We conducted a retrospective, repeated cross-sectional study using administrative data from all community EDs in Ontario and 10 EDs in the Vancouver Lower Mainland, British Columbia. Visits from January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2012 were included.
Results — Visit volumes increased 13.9% per year in British Columbia and 2.2% per year in Ontario, with a more pronounced rise in adult visits. Both groups displayed a shift toward higher-acuity presentations. Adults spent more time in the ED compared to children (36 to 53 min longer), and were more likely to be admitted. Children consistently spent a greater portion of their visit awaiting assessment compared to adults.
Conclusions — In the context of system incentives to reduce overcrowding, ED LOS and the LWBS rate did not significantly change for either children or adults, despite increased visit volume and acuity. Our findings suggest that measures to improve patient flow might have provided EDs with the means to meet increased demands on departmental resources.
Emergency medical services
Health care delivery
Health care evaluation