Emergency department care access

How long people wait to be seen in emergency departments (EDs) is a measure of the accessibility of ED care.

Waiting times measure the time elapsed from presentation in the ED to commencement of clinical care.

Over the last five years, the proportion of patients ‘seen on time’ has decreased and the time in which 90% of presentations were completed has increased.

Measurement of time in the emergency department

Progress of the patient through the ED is recorded using 5 different time points:

  • Presentation time—the time of first recorded contact with an ED staff member, which may be at the start of clerical registration or of the triage process.
  • Triage time—the time at which the patient was assigned a triage category, which can coincide with presentation time.
  • Clinical care commencement—the time at which care by a doctor, nurse, mental health practitioner or other health professional commenced, which can also coincide with presentation time.
  • Episode end time—the time at which the non-admitted patient ED service episode ended.
  • Physical departure time—the time at which the patient departed the ED, which can coincide with episode end time.

These time points are used to derive the patient’s waiting time, the duration of clinical care, and the length of the emergency department stay.