Background: Emergency general surgery (EGS) patients require urgent surgical evaluation and intervention for various conditions, such as infectious or obstructive diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. We aimed to characterize the structures and processes that are relevant to the delivery of EGS care across Ontario hospitals and to evaluate the availability of critical resources at hospitals with formal EGS models.
Methods: Between August 2019 and July 2020, we conducted a cross-sectional survey of Ontario hospitals that offered urgent general surgery (defined as the ability to provide nonelective surgical intervention within 24 to 48 hours of presentation) to adults. People with intimate knowledge of their hospital's EGS program completed a Web-based or telephone survey characterizing the program's organizational structure and staffing, operating room availability, interventional radiology and interventional endoscopy availability, intensive care unit availability and staffing, and regional participation. Their responses were compiled and comparisons were made between hospitals with and without formal EGS models of care, as well as between hospitals based on size and academic status.
Results: Of the 114 Ontario hospitals identified, 109 responded (95.6% response rate). A third (34.6%; n = 37/107) of hospitals had EGS models of care. Thirty-four of these (91.9%) were large (> 100-bed) institutions that would be likely to have increased resources. However, even for hospitals of similar size, those with EGS models had increased staffing levels compared to those without (clinical associates 17.6% [n = 3/17] v. 10.0% [n = 2/20]; nurse practitioners or physician assistants 27.8% [n = 5/18] v. 14.3% [n = 3/21]). They also had better access to diagnostic and interventional equipment (24/7 access to computed tomography 94.1% [n = 16/17] v. 69.2% [n = 18/26]), interventional radiology (88.9% [n = 16/18] v. 42.3% [n = 11/26]), endoscopy (100% [n = 18/18] v. 69.2% [n = 18/26]) and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (77.8% [n = 14/18] v. 42.3% [n = 11/26]), as well as dedicated operating room time (72.2% [n = 13/18] v. 0% [n = 0/25]).
Interpretation: The structures and processes available to care for patients requiring EGS in Ontario were highly variable between hospitals. Hospitals with formal EGS models were more likely to have access to key resources.
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