Patient reason for emergency department visit

Patients’ self-reported reasons for choosing to go to the emergency department. (see data dictionary)

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 patient experiences between hospitals of the same type (e.g., Large Urban)?

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.

Understanding “patients’ reasons for emergency department visits”

Surveying patients about their experiences in the emergency department provides a voice for patients about the quality of their care.

The HQCA asked emergency department patients:

  • Why did you choose to go to the emergency department, instead of somewhere else such as a doctor’s office? 

Respondents were offered a number of options, from which they could choose multiple answers:

  • The emergency department was the only choice available at the time.
  • The emergency department was the most convenient place to go.
  • I (we) thought the emergency department was the best place for my medical problem.
  • I was told to go to the emergency department rather than somewhere else.

The patients included in this chart are those whose urgency was assessed, at triage, as emergent to non-urgent (urgency levels two to five). Patients who were in need of resuscitation or required rapid medical intervention (assessed at urgency level one), are not included in this chart because, in these cases, there is a higher level of certainty that patients have no other option or choices except for emergency department care.

The information in this chart provides just one piece of information about the many different reasons why people choose to go to the emergency department for their medical care. As healthcare system leaders work to develop a better understanding of why patients in Alberta choose to use the emergency department for their care, other questions can be asked, such as:

  • Are other medical options available in patients’ communities for urgent care?
  • Are patients aware of what options are available?

There are many pieces of information that are important to understand when thinking about whether patients received the right care, at the right time, in the right place.

Understanding the HQCA’s  emergency department patient experience survey

Every two weeks, the HQCA conducts a telephone survey with a random sample of patients from each of the 16 emergency departments reported on this website. The patient input collected in the surveys is then analyzed by the HQCA and the results of the question above, and six others, are uploaded to this website every quarter (three months). See our methodology page to learn more about the survey methodology.
Results from April to July 2016 are not reported for the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre due to the forest fire that affected Fort McMurray and forced the closure of the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.

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