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Impact of Ontario's Harmonized Heat Warning and Information System on emergency department visits for heat-related illness in Ontario, Canada: a population-based time series analysis

Clemens KK, Ouédraogo AM, Le B, Voogt J, MacDonald M, Stranberg R, Yan JW, Krayenhoff ES, Gilliland J, Forchuk C, Van Uum R, Shariff SZ. Can J Public Health. 2022; Aug 18 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17269/s41997-022-00665-1


Intervention — Ontario’s Harmonized Heat Warning and Information System (HWIS) brings harmonized, regional heat warnings and standard heat-health messaging to provincial public health units prior to periods of extreme heat.

Research Question — Was implementation of the harmonized HWIS in May 2016 associated with a reduction in emergency department (ED) visits for heat-related illness in urban locations across Ontario, Canada?

Methods — We conducted a population-based interrupted time series analysis from April 30 to September 30, 2012–2018, using administrative health and outdoor temperature data. We used autoregressive integrated moving average models to examine whether ED rates changed following implementation of the harmonized HWIS, adjusted for maximum daily temperature. We also examined whether effects differed in heat-vulnerable groups (≥65 years or <18 years, those with comorbidities, those with a recent history of homelessness), and by heat warning region.

Results — Over the study period, heat alerts became more frequent in urban areas (6 events triggered between 2013 and 2015 and 14 events between 2016 and 2018 in Toronto, for example). The mean rate of ED visits was 47.5 per 100,000 Ontarians (range 39.7–60.1) per 2-week study interval, with peaks from June to July each year. ED rates were particularly high in those with a recent history of homelessness (mean rate 337.0 per 100,000). Although rates appeared to decline following implementation of HWIS in some subpopulations, the change was not statistically significant at a population level (rate 0.04, 95% CI: −0.03 to 0.1, p=0.278).

Conclusion — In urban areas across Ontario, ED encounters for heat-related illness may have declined in some subpopulations following HWIS, but the change was not statistically significant. Efforts to continually improve HWIS processes are important given our changing Canadian climate.

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