November 30, 2017 — The length of time patients spend in Canadian emergency departments (EDs) while waiting to be admitted to the hospital is on the rise, new data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows. The amount of time that patients who were discharged directly from the ED, who account for the majority of ED visits, spent in the ED remained relatively stable.

This new CIHI data shows that 90% of ED visits for admitted patients were completed within 32.6 hours in 2016–2017 — meaning 1 out of 10 patients waited longer than that. This represents a 3.3-hour increase from 2015–2016 (29.3 hours). Every jurisdiction saw an increase in the amount of time patients who needed to be admitted to hospital waited in the ED.

Looking back 5 years (to 2012–2013), 90% of ED visits for admitted patients were completed within 28.3 hours — signifying that, on average, patients who are admitted to hospital are now waiting longer.

Facts and figures

  • Findings are based on more than 11.2 million reported ED visits in 2016–2017.
  • When looking at all 11.2 million ED visits — for admitted patients and those discharged directly from the ED combined — 90% were completed in 7.8 hours or less, similar to 7.6 hours in 2015–2016.
  • In contrast, the ED length of stay for admitted patients is long and getting longer. In 2016–2017, 10% of ED patients who were admitted to hospital were in the ED for 32.6 hours or longer, up from 29.3 hours or longer in 2015–2016.
  • In 2016–2017, 90% of admitted patients visiting the ED waited 3.1 hours or less for their initial assessment with a physician, unchanged from 2015–2016.
  • For admitted patients age 65 and older, 90% of ED visits were completed within 36.3 hours, almost a 5-hour increase from 31.4 hours in 2015–2016.
  • Admitted patients who registered in the ED between 9 and 10 p.m. spent the longest time waiting, with 90% of visits completed within 38.1 hours, an increase from 26.7 hours in 2015–2016.

More data on ED visits can also be found in CIHI’s Quick Stats and Your Health System web tools. Indicators updated today in Your Health System include Emergency Department Wait Time for Physician Initial Assessment (90% Spent Less, in Hours) and Total Time Spent in Emergency Department for Admitted Patients (90% Spent Less, in Hours).

In addition, Your Health System features facility-level data on long-term care, hospital deaths, hospital readmissions and more. A complete list of indicators and contextual measures that have been refreshed with new years of data is available.  


“The time patients spend in the emergency room prior to being admitted to hospital is long — and is increasing for those who wait the longest. This can affect patients’ outcomes and is influenced by several factors, including those beyond the ED, like access to hospital beds and to long-term care and home care. We know from CIHI’s data that these waits are longest for seniors and that waits vary by time of day and day of week. We also know some hospitals have made good progress in shortening wait times for their admitted patients, so there is room to improve on this persistent issue.”

— Greg Webster, Director, Acute and Ambulatory Care Information Services, Canadian Institute for Health Information

About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides essential information on Canada’s health systems and the health of Canadians.

We provide comparable and actionable data and information that are used to accelerate improvements in health care, health system performance and population health across Canada. Our stakeholders use our broad range of health system databases, measurements and standards, together with our evidence-based reports and analyses, in their decision-making processes. We protect the privacy of Canadians by ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of the health care information we provide.

Media contact
Riley Denver