Patient time to see an emergency doctor

Time from when a patient arrives in the emergency department to when they first see a doctor for assessment (in hours). (see data definition)

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) with patients of the same urgency?
  • Could the number of patients who visited each emergency department be a reason for the differences that you see between sites?

Whether you’re a patient, provider, or health system administrator, thinking about why these differences might exist can start conversations and lead to solutions for improved quality of healthcare.

Compare patient volumes with this measure.

*Data courtesy of Alberta Health Services

Understanding “time to see an emergency doctor”

When patients arrive in the emergency department, a nurse assesses them (triages) to decide how urgently they need to be seen by a doctor. All emergency departments across Canada use the same criteria to determine patients’ level of urgency.

The chart above tells us how long patients waited in the emergency department from when they were first assessed by the triage nurse, to when they were first assessed by a doctor. The wait time for patients to see a doctor can be affected by many different factors, including the urgency of other patients, how efficiently the emergency department is functioning, and how many hospital beds are occupied. For example, time in the waiting room can be slowed down by other emergency patients waiting longer for CT or x-ray results to be available, or by patients in the emergency department waiting for a hospital bed to become available.

For patients whose urgency level was “1 – Resuscitation”, because the emergency department staff’s focus was on life-saving care, the data for patients’ time to see an emergency doctor may have been recorded after the patients’ care was completed and is an estimated time of when the doctors first saw the patient. Therefore the wait times for this very urgent level of care may be shorter or longer than what is captured in the emergency department and is shown on the website.  For more details, please see the methodology page.

When there are differences between the wait times at different emergency departments of the same size or in the same emergency department over many months, it is a flag to ask why. If wait times are getting longer, this information can start a conversation among staff, managers, and patients about possible causes and opportunities for improvement.

Results for November 2019 to March 2020 are not available for the University of Alberta Hospital and the Stollery Children’s Hospital.

Results for Grande Prairie up to November 2021 reflect care provided at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. Results after November 2021 reflect care provided at Grande Prairie Regional Hospital.

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:


Dimensions of Quality

  • Acceptability 
  • Accessibility 
  • Appropriateness 
  • Effectiveness 
  • Efficiency 
  • Safety