Most emergency department patients continue to be seen on time, despite increased activity

Despite rising numbers of presentations to Australian emergency departments, the proportion of people seen ‘on time’ for their urgency category is relatively stable, with most people seen on time, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Emergency department care 2016-17: Australian hospital statistics, shows that in 2016–17, there were 7.8 million presentations to public hospital emergency departments across Australia—or more than 21,000 each day.

'Between 2012–13 and 2016–17, after adjusting for the number of hospitals included, presentations to emergency departments increased by 2.6% each year on average,' said AIHW spokesperson Jenny Hargreaves.

The proportion of people presenting to emergency departments who were seen ‘on time’ for their urgency (triage) category  was fairly stable across the period, ranging from 73%  (in 2012–13 and  2016–17) to 75% (in 2013–14).

In 2016–17, variation was seen across the states and territories in this measure, ranging from 61% in the Northern Territory to 81% in New South Wales.

Nationally in 2016–17, almost 100% of resuscitation patients (those requiring treatment immediately), 77% of emergency patients (requiring treatment within 10 minutes) and 92% of non-urgent patients (requiring treatment within 2 hours) were seen on time.

The report also shows that emergency department patients are spending slightly more time in the emergency department, with 72% of visits completed in 4 hours or less. This is slightly less than the 73% of visits in 2015–16, but up on 67% in 2012–13.

‘After their visit to an emergency department, about 31% of emergency department patients were admitted to hospital for further care,’ Ms Hargreaves said.

‘For these patients, 49% were admitted in 4 hours or less and 90% were admitted within 10 hours and 44 minutes’.

In 2016–17, patients aged 4 and under—who make up less than 7% of the Australian population—accounted for 11% of all emergency department presentations.

‘Patients aged 65 and over—15% of the population—accounted for more than 21% of emergency department presentations,’ Ms Hargreaves said.

About one-quarter—or almost 2 million—emergency department presentations were for injuries or poisoning.

Updated emergency department information is also now available for individual Australian public hospitals on the AIHW’s MyHospitals website. Information includes emergency department waiting times and the proportion of patients leaving the emergency department within four hours.


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