ER doctors warn about the ‘winter surge’ at local emergency rooms

Emergency room doctors are asking patients to re-think their decision to seek treatment at hospital emergency departments this winter.

During the holidays, emergency departments are over-crowded and have extra-long wait times. This is because many people seeking treatment cannot visit their family physicians or local healthcare clinics due to holiday closures or reduced hours.

“There could be very long wait times because in the emergency department we seek the sickest people first — it’s not a first come, first served basis,” said Chad Kim Sing, emergency physician at Vancouver General and UBC Hospital.

While emergency departments are always open, that doesn’t mean they’re the best place to seek treatment. Emergency physicians suggest first going to your family doctor or a walk-in clinic for non-emergency issues. Other options include calling the nurses hotline, talking to your local pharmacist about issues with medications, or visiting the new urgent primary care clinic at Vancouver city centre.

The urgent primary care clinic is a treatment facility for members of the public seeking primary care for illnesses and injuries that do not require emergency treatment. This includes ailments such as fevers, sprains, cuts requiring stitches, broken bones and chest infections.

“It’s estimated that about a third of people presenting to the emergency room have urgent care problems that could be dealt with in other places,” said Afshin Khazei, emergency physician and medical director for the urgent primary care centre.

Of course, the urgent primary care clinic is not a place for emergencies. Life-threatening injuries or illnesses should be brought to a hospital emergency department.

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