"Unless you went in with your head under your arm": patient perceptions of emergency room visits

Soc Sci Med. 2005 Dec;61(11):2363-73. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.04.033. Epub 2005 Jun 13.


There is increasing concern in Canada regarding growing pressures on emergency room care. Frequent media reports call attention to overcrowding, lengthy waiting times and the re-routing of ambulances due to the closure of emergency rooms during periods of overcrowding. Much of this information, however, is anecdotal. As such, little is known about patients' experiences in emergency rooms in Canada. The purpose of this study is to explore patients' perceptions of their most recent emergency room visit. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 41 men and women from two socially distinct neighbourhoods in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Much of the previous work on experiences in emergency room care is international in scope and uses quantitative methods to examine patient satisfaction with emergency care. This study considers patient experiences more broadly and looks beyond satisfaction to examine reasons for seeking emergency room care and the factors that shape experiences. The findings show that most patients describe their experiences in negative terms. The aspects of emergency room care that were most often linked with negative experiences were waiting times, patient perceptions of the quality of care received and staff-patient interactions. The findings are discussed in the context of recent health care reforms in Canada, which we argue have not addressed adequately the 'crisis' in emergency rooms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Canada
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / psychology*
  • Male
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Waiting Lists