Patient emergency department total length of stay (LOS) | HQCA Focus

Healthcare Areas

Also in this section

Emergency Department

Patient emergency department total length of stay (LOS)

Time from when a patient arrives in the emergency department to when they leave the emergency department (some go home and some are admitted to the hospital). (see data dictionary)

Alberta Health Services, Analytics. “Provincial ELOS vs ALOS Dashboard.” (2018) [Dashboard showing monthly and quarterly results for the ratio of acute length of stay versus expected length of stay (for typical inpatient cases), by facility].  AHS Tableau Reporting Platform. Retrieved from

What do you see?

  • Are there any trends over time at the emergency department(s) where you work or would be most likely to visit?
  • Are there differences in wait times between hospitals of the same type (e.g., Large Urban)?
  • Could the number of patients who visited each emergency department be a reason for the differences that you see between sites?

Why is it meaningful?

Understanding "patient emergency department total length of stay"

It can be anywhere from less than one hour to many hours from when patients arrive in the emergency department and are first assessed, to when their emergency medical treatment is complete and they leave the emergency department to either go home (discharged patients) or to a hospital bed (admitted patients).

Knowing the total length of time patients stay in the emergency department is important for understanding patients’ overall experience. The length of time patients are in the emergency department can impact how long newly arriving emergency department patients wait to see an emergency doctor.

Patients’ total length of stay is influenced by a number of factors. For example, while patients are being treated in the emergency department, they may also be waiting for things like lab results, specialist/admitting doctor opinions, results from an X-ray or CT scan, or to see how they respond to treatment. If admitted patients remain in the emergency department waiting for a bed in the hospital to become available, it increases their length of stay. Admitted patients’ length of stay in emergency is particularly important because patients who need to be admitted to hospital require additional resources that are not best-suited to emergency department care. It also means that treatment space is not available to newly arriving emergency patients.

Another way of thinking about the importance of emergency department length of stay

If an emergency department had 10 treatment rooms, and each patient stayed 4 hours in the emergency department, 60 patients could be treated in 24 hours.

However, if each patient stayed 8 hours, only 30 patients could be treated in 24 hours.

Decreasing patients’ total length of stay in the emergency department is important to the experience of all patients in the emergency department.
Results for November 2019 to March 2020 are not available for the University of Alberta Hospital and the Stollery Children’s Hospital.

Alberta Quality Matrix for Health

The Health Quality Council of Alberta uses the Alberta Quality Matrix for Health as a way of organizing information and thinking around the complexity of the healthcare system. This measure can be used as input to assess the emergency department’s performance in these dimensions of quality: Acceptability and Efficiency.