Emergency department (ED) activity is measured by the number of presentations to the ED. Patients may arrive at the ED via ambulance or other emergency rescue service, private transport or by other means.
Over time, the number of presentations to EDs have increased from 8.02 million in 2017–18 to 8.79 million in 2021–22. Presentation rates per 1,000 population have also grown in this period — from 321 presentations per 1,000 people in 2017–18 to 339 presentations in 2021–22.
This section presents information on the number of presentations to public hospital EDs in 2021–22 and in other recent years and provides information about how and why people accessed ED care.
Information is also presented by:
Last updated 18/11/2020 v4.0
During the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia, a range of restrictions on travel, business, social interaction and border control were introduced across most jurisdictions from February 2020 to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID‑19. In response to the ongoing COVID–19 pandemic, many restrictions have continued in some jurisdictions in 2020–21, and new restrictions put in place in 2021–22 in response to new variants of COVID-19. These restrictions have had effects on the delivery of emergency department care.
The specific factors that may have impacted overall ED activity include:
This section presents analyses on presentations to emergency departments (EDs) in Australia during this period to explore the impact of these changes.
The data presented here show the impact the outbreak and measures to stop the spread, identify and treat COVID-19 had on emergency department activity in Australia in 2019–20, 2020–21 and 2021–22. Data for 2018–19 are also presented for comparative purposes.
The ED presentations with a principal diagnosis related to COVID-19 reported here do not reflect the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases.
The number of ED presentations with symptoms related to COVID-19 are likely influenced by external factors, such as public health messages, measures implemented by state and territory and federal governments and the opening of COVID‑19 testing centres, and fever clinics operating through some EDs in local areas.
A fever clinic is a specialist clinic managed by hospital and health services to assess people who may be infected with COVID-19. These clinics assisted in keeping people who may be contagious away from other areas of hospitals and health centres, helping to reduce the potential spread of the virus and keeping emergency departments available for emergencies.
To accurately capture data about the presentation of COVID-19 presentations, the states and territories introduced codes to identify confirmed, suspected, and ruled-out COVID-19 ED presentations under the advice of the (then) Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA). The data presented here use the following emergency use codes:
It should be noted that the previously adopted Emergency use of U06.0 [COVID-19, ruled out] was not included under the COVID-19 grouping.
The use of these codes was not necessarily applied in a consistent manner across health facilities, and the volume presentations to ED for COVID-19 are likely to have been influenced by the nature of testing arrangements in each location. This means the data must be interpreted with caution. More information can be found on the IHPA website.
The data visualisations below allow users to explore the changes in emergency department activity from 2018–19 to 2021–22.
Impact of COVID-19 on emergency department activity
All data in these visualisations are available for download in the Data & downloads section of the MyHospitals website.
Presentations 2018–19 to 2021–22
This line graphs show the average daily presentations (by month) to emergency departments between 2018–19 and 2021–22. National, state and territory data is available. June 2021–22 had a daily average of 24,315 admissions.
Triage category 2018–19 to 2021–22
This graph show the average daily presentations (by month and triage category) to emergency departments between 2018–19 and 2021–22. National, state and territory data is available.
Principal diagnoses 2018–19 to 2021–22
This graph show the daily presentations (by month) to emergency departments between 2018–19 and 2021–22. Data is presented by body system group. National, state and territory data is available.
In 2021–22, average daily presentations to ED dropped twice due to COVID-19 waves, mutations and associated lockdowns.
From February 2022, the average daily presentations to ED increased steadily to 24,300 in June 2022.
In 2020–21, average daily presentations to ED increased steadily from 21,400 in July 2020 to 25,100 in June 2021 which was higher than the corresponding period in 2018–19 for all months except July 2020 and September 2020. Despite this return to pre COVID-19 ED activity at a national level, ED presentations in Victoria decreased from July to August 2020, potentially due to an increase of local COVID-19 cases between June and September 2020, and associated restrictions.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia, the average daily presentations to emergency departments steadily increased from 21,600 in July 2018 to 23,900 in February 2020, an average increase of 0.56% per month. In March 2020, the average daily presentations to ED were 23,000 which then dropped to 17,000 in April 2020, a substantial decrease of 26% in a single month. The average daily ED presentations then steadily increased to 19,100 in May 2020 and 21,500 in June 2020, which was still 8.6% lower than the corresponding period in 2018–19.
When a patient presents to the ED an experienced registered nurse or medical practitioner allocates them a triage category. This indicates the urgency of the patient’s need for medical and nursing care.
During outbreaks of COVID-19, the proportion of ED presentations with chronic or minor symptoms and for whom treatment can be delayed up to 2 hours increased.
In the months between July 2019 and February 2020, the average daily Non-urgent presentations accounted for 7–8% of average daily ED presentations. In March 2020, Non-urgent presentations increased and accounted for 13% of the average daily number of ED presentations. Non-urgent ED presentations then declined to around 10–11% between April to June 2020.
The outbreak of COVID‑19 infections and associated national and jurisdiction-based measures influenced the types of presentation to emergency departments in Australia from February 2020.
Over the period from February 2020 to June 2022, the average daily presentations with a principal diagnosis of COVID-19 (including emergency use codes U07.1 and U07.2):
Over the period from February 2020 to June 2022:
The Emergency department ICD-10-AM (eleventh edition) Principal diagnosis short list was used to group Principal diagnosis into Disease/body system group. For more information, see METEOR.
Presentations were grouped into Emergency department ICD-10-AM (11th edition) Principal diagnosis Short list Disease/body system group based on the principal diagnosis at the 3 character level.
The visualisation showing Body system groups include only presentations assigned a Principal diagnosis.
Exceptions to the use of IHPA body system group are:
To explore the influence of the COVID‑19 on other health data, further releases are available on the AIHW website under COVID‑19 resources and The impact of COVID-19 on Australia's health system.
Information on the total confirmed cases and active cases can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
Data are also available on emergency department presentations by hospital or LHN in My local area.
Appendixes and caveat information for this data is available to download in the Info and downloads section.
Definitions of the terms used in this section are available in the Glossary.
An ED presentation occurs following the arrival of the patient at the ED and commences at the point of being registered or triaged. Triage is the process during which a health professional assesses the urgency of the care needs, including assigning one of five urgency categories to the health record.
Explore the number of presentations to Australia’s public hospital EDs between 2017–18 and 2021–22 in the data visualisation below.
Information is presented by the following patient characteristics:
The data can also be explored by:
Emergency department presentations
This line graph shows the number of presentations to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments between 2017–18 and 2021–22. Data is presented by measure (number of presentations and presentations per 1,000 population). National, state and territory data is available. In 2021–22, there were 8,789,877 presentations to emergency departments, which amounted to 338 presentations per 1,000 population in Australia.
This line graph shows the number of presentations to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments between 2017–18 and 2021–22. Data is presented by peer group. National, state and territory data is available. In 2021–22, the number of presentations ranged by peer group; from 3,306,285 presentations to Public acute group A hospitals to 225,274 presentations to other hospitals.
Age and sex
These column graphs show the number of presentations per 1,000 population to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments in 2021–22. Data is presented by age group and sex. National, state and territory data is available. In 2021–22, there were 345.9 presentations for females and 338.1 for males, per 1,000 population.
This column graph shows show the number of presentations per 1,000 population to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments in 2021–22. Data is presented by age group and Indigenous status. National, state and territory data is available. In 2021–22, Indigenous Australian’s had more presentations 1,000 population, compared with Other Australians for all age groups. For example. Indigenous Australian’s in the age group of 35-39 had 967.1 presentations per 1,000 in Australia, compared to 279.5 presentations per 1,000 Other Australian’s in the same age group.
Hospitals and LHNs
This table shows the number of presentations to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments between 2012–13 to 2021–22, by triage category and peer group. Hospital, Local Hospital Network (LHN), national, and state and territory data is available.
Overall, in 2021–22:
Emergency presentations have increased over the last five years, from 8.01 million in 2017–18 to 8.79 million in 2021–22, representing an average annual increase of 2.3% per year. However the number of presentations fluctuated during the years that were affected by COVID, decreasing in 2019–20 and increasing again in 2020–21.
Presentations to Public acute group C hospitals have increased the most by 6.4% per year since 2017–18.
Appendix information is available to download in the Info and downloads section.
Reports released prior to 2017–18 can be accessed in the Reports section.
Further information about the concepts on this page can be found in the Glossary.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2022) Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, ABS website, accessed 20 October 2022.
ABS (2022) Regional population, ABS website, accessed 20 October 2022.
Patients present to the emergency department (ED) for various reasons. This section presents information on care provided in EDs by:
In the data visualisation below you can explore ED presentations by ICD-10-AM principal diagnosis chapter, age group and sex.
Care provided in emergency departments
This figure explores ED presentations in 2021–22. Data is presented by age group, sex, and ICD-10-AM principal diagnosis chapter. National data is available. In 2021–22, the ICD-10-AM principal diagnosis chapter Injury, poisoning and other consequences of external causes accounted for 22% of all diagnoses.
Urgency of care
This figure explores the proportion ED presentations by triage category from 2017–18 to 2021–22. In 2021–22, Resuscitation accounted for 0.8% of all ED presentations, Emergency accounted for 13%, Urgent accounted for 37%, Semi-urgent accounted for 40% and Non-urgent accounted for 8.8%.
When a patient presents to the ED, a registered nurse or medical practitioner allocates them a triage category. The triage category indicates the time within which their clinical care must commence and hence the urgency of the patient’s need for medical and nursing care.
In 2021–22, there were 8.8 million ED presentations, and of these:
In one-quarter of all presentations (25%) no specific condition is diagnosed. This may reflect a focus in EDs on managing the symptoms and immediate care needs of patients, which often does not require (or allow time for) detailed examination and assessment of the underlying causes and conditions.
In 2021–22, where a principal diagnosis was provided:
The mode of arrival relates to how a patient arrives at the ED, whether by ambulance, or another form of transport.
The episode end status describes the status of the patient at the conclusion of the episode in the emergency department, including whether the patient was subsequently admitted to the hospital.
Most ED presentations end with the patient leaving the hospital. A smaller proportion of patients are admitted to the hospital, however, this varies considerably across jurisdictions and can reflect differing admission practices (ie. where one hospital might admit a patient overnight, another may manage their care entirely within the ED).
Previous emergency department care reports can be accessed in the Reports section.
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