ED overcrowding: the Ontario approach

Acad Emerg Med. 2011 Dec;18(12):1242-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2011.01220.x.


Ontario is Canada's most populous province, with approximately 12 million people and 130 emergency departments (EDs). Canada has a national single-payer universal health care system, but provinces are responsible for administration. After years of problems and failed attempts to address chronic ED overcrowding, in April 2008 Ontario embarked on an ambitious program to improve system performance through targeted investments (initially CAN$500 million over 3 years) and realigned incentives. Supporting the program were requirements for hospitals to submit timely data and targets for length of stay (LOS) and annual improvements; results are publicly reported. The program has been continued this year. While not all our provincial level targets have been met as yet, major improvements have been made, especially in access to care and LOS in the ED for patients eventually discharged home. The greatest improvements were made among the cohort of mainly urban, high-volume EDs that had the worst performance at baseline. This presentation will highlight some of the controversies and challenges and key lessons learned. Overall, the Ontario experience suggests ED overcrowding is a soluble problem, but requires a system-level intervention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Crowding*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Health Care Reform
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • National Health Programs / organization & administration
  • Ontario
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Program Development
  • Program Evaluation