When Alies Maybee’s abdominal pain became so severe she started weeping, her first instinct was to call her family doctor.
But when she called, all she heard was an automated voice message. It told her to go to the emergency room.
“It was a bit discouraging but the pain was so bad I just wanted to have some kind of relief,” said the 66-year-old Torontonian. “I don’t like to go to the emergency department unless I absolutely have to.”
Across Canada, nearly one in five patients who visited an emergency room did so for conditions that could have been treated by a family physician or at a clinic, according to a new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).
Of the 7 million cases analyzed, 1.4 million could have been better treated at a family practice or clinic, the study found. There were about 17 million visits to emergency departments in Canada from April 2013 to March 2014, according to the institute.
To me, the most important system issue is people’s access to family physicians.
“To me, the most important system issue is people’s access to family physicians,” said Dr. Howard Ovens, director of the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“I think they expect more from the health care system, and they recognize the emergency department as an entry point for many of these treatable, more acute conditions,” said Ovens.
In the past two years, more patients have told Ovens they are on months-long waiting lists for family doctors, he said.
Regardless, the bottom line is still that patients should come to the emergency room if they think they need to, he said.