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New data released today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows that emergency department (ED) visits dropped by 25% in March 2020, compared with March 2019. This represents a decrease of 318,000 visits during the period where governments and health systems started implementing measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Findings are based on more than 80% of ED visits in Canada reported to CIHI. 

Looking specifically at the last week of March, after travel restrictions were imposed and schools and daycares were closed across much of Canada, there is an even more pronounced change: visits decreased by 49% that week compared with the same time period in 2019. In some cases, visits per day dropped dramatically. For example, the number of ED visits on March 31, 2020, was about 50% lower than the number of visits on March 31, 2019 (20,427versus 40,803, respectively).

Looking at CTAS (Canadian Triage Acuity Scale) levels — a severity scale that health professionals use to triage patients in Canada’s EDs — the largest volume reduction in ED visits (March 2020 versus March 2019) was seen in CTAS level 4 (less urgent patients), down 29% across Canada. Even among the most seriously ill or injured patients — those in CTAS level 1, who require resuscitation — there was a 14% decrease.

“We’ve heard anecdotally that visits to emergency departments for issues other than COVID-19 have significantly decreased during the pandemic,” said Greg Webster, Director, Acute and Ambulatory Care Information Services. “The data released today confirms this. When we compare to last year, it’s clear that many Canadians avoided visiting emergency departments in the initial weeks of the pandemic, which may have had serious consequences for some patients.”

This release contains data on ED visits from participating Canadian jurisdictions. The information is also broken down by sex, age and weekly volumes. CIHI is compiling data for April and May 2020 and plans to release it in the fall.

NACRS Emergency Department Visits: Comparison of January to March 2019 and January to March 2020 (XLSX)

About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing essential health information to all Canadians.

CIHI works closely with federal, provincial and territorial partners and stakeholders throughout Canada to gather, package and disseminate information to inform policy, management, care and research, leading to better and more equitable health outcomes for all Canadians.

Health information has become one of society’s most valuable public goods. For 25 years, CIHI has set the pace on data privacy, security, accessibility and innovation to improve Canada’s health systems.

CIHI: Better data. Better decisions. Healthier Canadians.

Media contacts

Alexandra Maheux

media@cihi.ca

416-549-5317