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‘Faster care’: Online tool aims to cut emergency room wait times in Winnipeg

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WINNIPEG – Staffing shortages in Winnipeg’s health-care systems continue to drive longer hospital wait times, but the organization tasked with overseeing health care in the city hopes an online tool can help ease the burden on emergency rooms.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is providing real-time wait information at participating walk-in clinics. The body already provides this information for its emergency departments and urgent care centers.

Wait times have surged this season as the province deals with COVID-19, the seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Some physicians with the health authority say the new tool won’t solve longer wait times in hospitals, but it may help people with less urgent needs receive care more quickly.

Nearly half of patients who go to hospitals to seek help can receive appropriate care at another location, said Dr. Joss Reimer, chief medical officer for the authority.

“We need our doctors and our nurses and other health-care providers to be making sure they care for people who are having the most acute situations. The difference for that one individual who could get faster care at one of the private clinics or one of our walk-in clinics could be massive,” she said.

Doctors Manitoba, which represents some 4,000 physicians and medical students, has warned that hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed.

The children’s hospital in Winnipeg has seen unprecedented numbers of children seeking treatment for respiratory viruses for this time of year.

So far this month, the hospital has seen three times the normal amount of children testing positive for the seasonal fly, and the system is strained.

Dr. Shawn Young, chief operating officer of the Health Sciences Centre, said many patients coming into the children’s hospital are “quite sick.”

“Much of that has been attributed to the fact that we haven’t had a lot of immunity over the last few years with everyone being isolated and wearing masks,” he said.

“It is an early spike for us. We’re seeing it across the country, and it is creating a lot of increased demands in the children’s hospital.”

Physicians say the other driving factor of high wait times is the shortage of staff in all areas of the health-care system.

“It’s not just one area, it’s the whole system … staffing is at the root of it. And if we can fix staffing, we will fix the flow,” said Young.

He added that the hope is that staffing levels will improve, so they will take care of efficiencies.

Doctors Manitoba said Thursday doctor shortages in the province have reached an all-time high.

The organization said Manitoba would need 405 more doctors to be on par with the Canadian average of 246 physicians per 100,000 residents.

“The doctor shortage affects all Manitoba families, whether you’re trying to find a family doctor, waiting to see a specialist, worried about overwhelmed ERs, or stuck in the surgery and testing backlog,” president Dr. Candace Bradshaw said in a release.

To increase staffing, Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government recently introduced premiums for nurses who work weekends.

Reimer said it’s too early to tell the impact this has had but has heard from some facilities that they were fully staffed for the first time in a long time over the weekend.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

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