The BC Children's Hospital Emergency Department (ED) provided care to over 13,000 children and youth from October to December 2022. Of these, more than one third (4,795) sought care that could have been treated non-urgently, outside of an emergency care environment.
Among the most common non-urgent concerns were fever and milder respiratory symptoms (cough and congestion), nausea/vomiting, mild abdominal pain, and earache. Conversely, the most common urgent concerns were children with moderate to severe respiratory distress.
Ahead of this respiratory season, BC Children's clinicians are advising families of the different care options available to them, depending on the urgency of their child's health concern:
Emergency care: children with a medical emergency, such as difficulty breathing, require immediate medical attention. Families are urged to call 9-1-1 for ambulance services or visit their nearest emergency department or urgent and primary care centre.
Non-urgent concerns: may be managed by a family doctor, walk-in clinic or an urgent and primary care centre, if available in your community.
BC pharmacies: As of this year, BC pharmacists can now provide direct care for select minor ailments including pink eye (conjunctivitis), upset stomach, sprains and strains and allergies.
HealthLink BC: provides reliable, non-emergency health information and advice any time of the day or night by phone at 8-1-1.
British Columbians can call for advice on how to manage their symptoms, and when and where to seek care. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can contact HealthLinkBC using Video Relay Services (VRS), or Teletypewriter (TTY) by dialing 7-1-1.
Additional supports: BC Children's Hospital has a dedicated webpage, developed in consultation with emergency medicine doctors. It offers guidance on the top urgent issues that require care from your nearest ED, and those that can be managed in other clinical settings.
Dr. Garth Meckler, Division Head, Emergency Medicine, BC Children's Hospital said, "Our message to families is simple: if your child has an emergency health concern, our specialist ED team are prepared to provide exceptional care to them. When our ED is busy, however, clinicians must first focus their attention on children with the most urgent issues first, including those with life-threatening conditions. This can result in a longer wait for children with less urgent concerns. We kindly ask all families to be patient and respectful to our staff. We know it is a stressful and anxious time visiting our hospital with an unwell infant or child. Rest assured, our staff do their utmost to provide the best possible care to all patients."
For children and families waiting for care for a less urgent issue, clinicians advise arriving at the ED prepared, including bringing phone chargers, packing snacks and drinks, toys or books, and other items to support and soothe their infant or child while they wait. Where possible, one to two family members or caregivers are welcome to accompany each patient in the ED. This ensures sufficient space for other families and children waiting, limits risk of exposure to our most vulnerable patients, and allows providers to focus their attention on patients.
"Last year, our hospital experienced significant demand for ED care at the height of respiratory season. We recognize the significant stress this posed to families seeking care for their children. This year, we reviewed the operational adjustments made last year in preparation for the respiratory season ahead. Our priority is to ensure every family visiting our ED this fall/winter knows that they are in safe and capable hands when they walk through the doors of our hospital," said Christy Hay, Executive Director, Clinical Service Delivery, BC Children's Hospital.