Objectives: To explore emergency department (ED) patient expectations regarding staff communication with patients, wait times, the triage process and information management.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional English-language telephone survey among patients aged 18 years or older who visited the EDs in the Calgary Health Region in 2002. Survey items were based on a preceding qualitative study.
Results: Of the 941 surveys, 837 were analyzed. Patients placed the highest importance on the explanation of test results (96.5%), a description of circumstances that would require the patient to return to the ED (94.4%), the use of plain language (92.1%) and the reason for the tests (90.8%). Seventy-six percent of patients felt that ED staff should update patients every 30 minutes or less, 51.3% expected patients with non-life threatening problems should wait <1 hour, and 58.3% expected that the tests should be done within 1 hour. Almost two-thirds of the patients (64.4%) believed that the most serious patients should be seen first; 59.3% felt that the seriousness of medical concern should be determined by a triage nurse, and 63.9% thought that their personal health records should be immediately available to the emergency physician without their consent. The actual length of stay was significantly longer than expected length of stay for all patient groups, with Canadian Emergency Department Triage and Acuity Scale Levels IV and V patients expecting a shorter wait than patients in more urgent triage groups. Triage level effects on other expectations were not observed.
Conclusions: ED patient expectations appear to be similar across all triage levels. Patients value effective communication and short wait times over many other aspects of care. They have expectations for short wait times that are met infrequently and are currently unattainable in many Canadian EDs. Although it may be neither feasible nor desirable to meet all patient expectations, increased focus on wait times and staff communication may increase both ED efficiency and patient satisfaction.