Improving delivery of care in rural emergency departments: a qualitative pilot study mobilizing health professionals, decision-makers and citizens in Baie-Saint-Paul and the Magdalen Islands, Québec, Canada

BMC Health Serv Res. 2020 Jan 29;20(1):62. doi: 10.1186/s12913-020-4916-1.


Background: Emergency departments (EDs) in rural and remote areas face challenges in delivering accessible, high quality and efficient services. The objective of this pilot study was to test the feasibility and relevance of the selected approach and to explore challenges and solutions to improve delivery of care in selected EDs.

Methods: We conducted an exploratory multiple case study in two rural EDs in Québec, Canada. A survey filled out by the head nurse for each ED provided a descriptive statistical portrait. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ED health professionals, decision-makers and citizens (n = 68) and analyzed inductively and thematically.

Results: The two EDs differed with regards to number of annual visits, inter-facility transfers and wait time. Stakeholders stressed the influence of context on ED challenges and solutions, related to: 1) governance and management (e.g. lack of representation, poor efficiency, ill-adapted standards); 2) health services organization (e.g. limited access to primary healthcare and long-term care, challenges with transfers); 3) resources (e.g. lack of infrastructure, limited access to specialists, difficult staff recruitment/retention); 4) and professional practice (e.g. isolation, large scope, maintaining competencies with low case volumes, need for continuing education, teamwork and protocols). There was a general agreement between stakeholder groups.

Conclusions: Our findings show the feasibility and relevance of mobilizing stakeholders to identify context-specific challenges and solutions. It confirms the importance of undertaking a larger study to improve the delivery of care in rural EDs.

Keywords: Case study; Emergency medicine; Rural; Stakeholders.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Personnel / psychology
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Islands
  • Pilot Projects
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality Improvement / organization & administration*
  • Quebec
  • Rural Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Rural Population