SAH First in North to Launch ED Wait Time Clock

Posted November 03 2016 12:05pm

October 2016 - How long will it take to see a doctor or nurse practitioner? A trip to the hospital emergency department (ED) can sometimes mean a long wait. Before heading to the ED, check out our wait times online!

Sault Area Hospital (SAH) recently launched a wait time clock for patients in the ED and Fast Track Clinic. Current wait times and other information about usage are now available on our website at and will be displayed in the ED and Fast Track waiting rooms.

The ED Wait Time Clock initiative is part of Sault Area Hospital’s (SAH) Patient Flow Redesign efforts to improve the patient experience and access to care. The goal of Patient Flow Redesign is to place patients who need to be admitted into an inpatient bed as soon as possible so that the appropriate care and treatment are not delayed. The ED Wait Time Clock will support patient flow efforts by providing patients with information to make informed decisions about how and when to access Emergency care. 

SAH is the first hospital in Northern Ontario to implement the ED Wait Time Clock and joins only a few other hospitals in Ontario in making this information available to patients. “We are pleased that SAH has implemented this initiative, giving patients real-time information to make informed decisions,” says Tracy Galizia, Manager of Patient Flow. “Before heading to Emergency, you can now look at our wait times on our website and consider your other options,” she says.

“The online wait time reflects the most current estimate of how long it will take from the time you are assessed by a nurse in the ED or Fast Track until you are seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner,” says Galizia. “It is not a guarantee of the length of time patients will wait.”

The clock tells you wait times to see a physician in the ED and Fast Track, the number of people currently registered and waiting, the number of people currently being treated, and when the ED/Fast Track is busiest over the next six hours (based on history over the previous 30 days).

Alongside the clock, the website also includes information about other community walk-in clinics, other community resources and a Frequently Asked Questions section. “Wait times in our ED and Fast Track are among the most frequently asked questions by our patients and families,” says Galizia. “Launching this new system reinforces our commitment to patient-centred care by communicating information that will help those we serve make more informed decisions about their care.”

According to Dr. Derek Garniss, Medical Director of the Emergency Department, the ED Wait Time Clock is a tool that keeps patients in the loop so they know what to expect. “When patients come to the ED, they want to know how long it will take to see a doctor and with the wait time clock, patients now have access to this information in real-time.”

The online wait time tool is meant to give the public general information about wait times. Patients experiencing a medical emergency should proceed to Emergency. “If you have a medical emergency, you should call 911 or come to Emergency right away,” he explains. “Patients who require urgent care will be seen immediately and those who require care for more minor injuries or illnesses will be seen through the Fast Track Clinic.”

The sickest patients are always seen first to ensure they get the care they need, even though they may arrive at the ED after other patients. All Canadian hospitals use the same standard tool (Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale or CTAS) to evaluate a patient’s medical urgency. A specially trained Triage Nurse assesses each patient’s condition upon arrival and prioritizes their medical need based on five triage levels, with number 1 being the most critical (ex. heart attack) and number 5 being non-urgent (ex. ear infection). Patients with non-urgent medical conditions are seen in the Fast Track Clinic between 9 am and 9 pm daily.

The wait time data is updated every 10 minutes and can change according to what is happening in the ED. “Emergency demand can change quickly and dramatically depending on patient need,” says Dr. Garniss. “An incident such as a serious trauma can unexpectedly and significantly impact the wait time for others.”

Despite the wait time information now being readily available, patients are not advised to leave the ED or Fast Track Clinic once they are triaged and waiting to be seen. “Some patients are monitored while they wait, while others may require an ECG or blood work prior to being seen,” explains Dr. Garniss. “Also, if patients leave, they risk missing their turns if the wait time changes and they are called earlier than first anticipated.”

What do patients think of the online wait time tool so far? Although the clock was just recently launched on October 11, patients appreciate having access to this information. According to Patient and Family Advisor, Tammy Zalewski, “I’m so pleased that SAH has launched this valuable tool,” she says. “It will help patients to take charge of their own care and make informed decisions.” Tammy says for elderly patients or those who do not have access to the internet, it will allow care takers, family and friends to help them make decisions. “The ED Wait Time Clock and website provide a wealth of information and now I feel I have information to help my loved ones navigate through our community resources and options.”

SAH thanks the Patient Flow Redesign Team, the ED Wait Time Clock Implementation Team, staff, physicians, community partners and patients for their support and perseverance in our collective efforts to improve timely and appropriate access to care. 


Your Guide to Using Emergency Services

The emergency department is intended to provide emergency medical care for serious conditions. Sometimes it is a difficult to know when you should visit a family doctor/walk-in clinic or when to come to the emergency department. The following is not a complete list but a guideline for when to go to Emergency and when to visit your doctor or a community walk-in clinic.


What are considered emergency health problems?

For adults:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing, unexpected heavy breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sever bleeding or head trauma
  • Sudden onset of weakness, dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Injuries to eyes, hands, ears
  • Sudden change in speech or vision
  • Broken bones
  • Major sprains

For children:

  • Persistent fever (>38.5 ºC/100.4 ºF)
  • Persistent vomiting/diarrhea
  • Will not eat or drink (particularly young children)


What are considered non-urgent health problems?

  • Minor burns or injuries
  • Sprains and strains
  • Coughs, colds, and sore throats
  • Ear infections
  • Fever or flu-like symptoms
  • Skin irritations (rashes)
  • Mild asthma
  • Prescription renewals
  • Investigation of chronic problems

If you are not sure whether your problem is urgent, do not hesitate to come to Emergency or call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 for free access to a Registered Nurse who can assess symptoms and help you decide your next step.

Learn more about the ED Wait Time Clock and other available walk-in clinics and resources.