According to new data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), between January and March during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency room visits reduced by 25%in comparison to 2019. On Monday, new data was suggesting that emergency departments had a decrease of 318,000 visits between January 1 and March 31. This is the period when governments and health agencies started employing actions to control the spread of COVID-19.
The data also found that emergency department visits decreased by 49% during the last week of March when travel restrictions were imposed, and schools closed across much of Canada, in comparison to the same week in 2019. Emergency departments stated 1,299,110 visits in March 2019. At the same time, there were 981,069 visits in March 2020. The data is derived from more than 80% of emergency room visits in Canada reported to CIHI from hospitals in B.C., Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, P.E.I., Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.
Daily emergency room visits drastically dropped in some hospitals. On March 31, 2020, the number of emergency visits were around 50% lower than the number of visits on March 31, 2019. The data also examined the Canadian Triage Acuity Scale (CTAS) levels, which health professionals apply in organizing and prioritizing patients in Canada’s emergency departments by the severity of illness. In March, CIHI reported that the most considerable volume reduction in emergency room visits was seen in CTAS level 4 or less urgent patients with visits down 29 per cent across Canada.
The director of Acute and Ambulatory Care Information Services at the CIHI, Greg Webster, stated that at the start of the pandemic, many Canadians were staying away from hospitals. He also said that avoiding them when there is an actual medical emergency may result in worsening conditions even as some may visit emergency departments for minor issues. Webster added that they had heard anecdotally that visits to emergency departments for issues other than COVID-19 have significantly decreased during the pandemic. He noted that this might have had serious consequences for some patients.
Between January and March, hospitals reported that less Canadians were going into emergency departments for: back pain, urinary infections, headaches, head injuries, nausea, abdominal or pelvic pain, throat and chest pain, gastroenteritis, colitis, and vomiting in comparison to the same three months in 2019. Emergency departments saw an increase in some conditions, which were showing symptoms of COVID-19 despite reporting less visits overall. The data also shows that emergency rooms experienced a surge in patients for acute upper and lower respiratory and viral infections than in 2019.