The majority of patients who visit Canadian emergency rooms do not require urgent medical attention, says a new report released today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
The report says that 57 per cent of patient visits to selected Canadian ERs were for less-urgent or non-urgent conditions, including sore throats, mild abdominal pain and earaches.
Only 0.5 per cent of patients in emergency departments were considered severely ill, meaning they needed life-saving intervention.
"Where alternatives are available, this raises questions about whether a portion of these types of patients can be appropriately treated in non-emergency department settings, such as primary health care clinics," said Jennifer Zelmer, CIHI vice-president of research.
People have been conditioned to think that health care is free, and so they abuse the system by making emergency room visits for their kids' runny noses or their sore throats.
User fees for non-emergency ER visits would cut down on the abuse of the system quite quickly, shortening waiting times and freeing up resources for people with genuine medical emergencies.
Moreover, if these non-emergency visits could be handled by private clinics, fewer patients would have to go to ERs in the first place.
It's not just governments and health care providers who have to change their ways to make public health care work again. We do, too.