Local emergency departments urge patients to prepare for holiday

With family physician offices and urgent care centres closing or reducing hours over the holidays, local emergency departments are the only option for people seeking medical attention between Christmas and the New Year – which could lead to longer than usual waits for patients who do not require immediate, emergency care.

In an effort to help manage increased patient volumes at area hospitals, Dr. Aaron Smith, Emergency Department Lead for the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (WWLHIN), is offering a common sense prescription to potential patients: Be prepared.

“By being prepared and proactive, people can avoid an emergency visit completely or greatly improve their experience if they do need emergency care over the holidays,”     said Smith.

To avoid a hospital visit, he suggests:

– make sure to have enough medications (prescription and non-prescription) to get through the holidays;

– make sure all medical equipment (such as inhalers, respirators, glucometer and diabetic supplies) are in good working order;

– ask the doctor’s office what back-up coverage they offer or recommend when they are closed, and find out where and when non-urgent medical care is being offered at local clinics; and

– knowing where the nearest 24-hour pharmacy is located.

Not all visits will be avoidable, and an influx of patients could lead to longer than usual wait times for non-urgent care.

“Our staff and physicians will do their best to see patients as quickly as possible, but the departments could be very busy. As always, patients will be seen by a doctor based on the severity of their illness,” he said.

If an emergency visit is necessary, he offers this advice:

– bring your OHIP card or other medical insurance information;

– bring a list or supply of your current medications;

– bring only one person for support – visitor restrictions will be enforced; and

– if bringing a child to the department, don’t forget diapers, blankets and other comfort items.

“A visit to the emergency department is stressful at any time, but can be even more so during the holiday season,” said Smith. “Being prepared will ensure a smoother visit, enabling our staff and physicians to provide the best care possible.”