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Waiting for medical tests, not lack of beds, causing major wait times at ERs: report

Wait times continue to be high in Winnipeg. Global News / File

WINNIPEG — Long wait times and overcrowded emergency rooms. It’s a common problem many Manitobans can relate to.

However, what’s causing those long wait times may surprise you.

It could be the result of time-consuming medical scans and tests as opposed to a shortage of available hospital beds.

RELATED: Winnipeg continues to have Canada’s worst ER wait times

That’s part of new research done by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy in the report Factors Affecting Emergency Department Waiting Room Times in Winnipeg.

“Traditionally we are told that (emergency department) wait times are long because hospitals are full,” Dr. Malcolm Doupe, the report’s lead author, said. “Yes, this is a factor but our research shows that it’s not the most important factor.”

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The number and type of medical tests being performed was the single largest factor effecting wait times.

RELATED: Q & A: How long are medical wait times in Canada by province and procedure?

Winnipeg sees about 250,000 emergency department visits a year, or 610 visits per day, Doupe said.

Only 12 per cent of emergency room visits end with a patient transferred into a hospital bed, according to the new report.

Doupe said it’s diagnostic tests, like CT scans, X-rays, urinalysis and blood work that have the greatest impact on the length of time patients have to squirm in emergency rooms chairs.

“If we’re going to discuss strategies for reducing ED [emergency department] wait times, our recommendation is to not just focus on freeing up hospital beds but rather to also focus on what’s happening within the emergency department,” he said.

RELATED: Where can you get ER access 24/7 in rural Manitoba?

One of those problems…patients either don’t have a family doctor they can see or the wait to get in for a visit is too long.

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“I think you need a family doctor. A doctor that can see you in a reasonable amount of time, not in three or four weeks,” said Dr. Ricardo Lobato De Faria, an emergency room doctor and chief medical officer at Seven Oaks Hospital.

“(A doctor who) at the same time can navigate the system and give you the appropriate diagnostic tests in an appropriate and timely manner.”

In Manitoba, there are just 1,422 family doctors, an increase of just 82 physicians since 2011. However, in that same time period, Manitoba’s population has increased by nearly 80,000 people.

“If people had better primary care resources they would not come to the ER department,” Alecs Chochinov, medical director of the WRHA emergency program, said. “Many of the patients that come to our emergency departments, who are less urgent cases, have nowhere else to go.”

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