‘Hallway medicine,’ the practice of treating patients in hospital hallways and corridors when no beds are available, has been a hot-button political issue for several years in Ontario. It was a major focus of the 2018 provincial election and has been a central concern for patient advocates and medical malpractice lawyers in Toronto. During his first year in office, Premier Doug Ford formed a dedicated panel to reduce wait times and hospital overcrowding; this summer, he pledged to eliminate hallway medicine in the province by July 2020.

Despite the government’s recent efforts, average wait times in Ontario emergency departments reached a new record high for June in 2019, peaking at 16.3 hours. The average patient waited 1.6 hours before being assessed by a doctor.

Extended wait times and hallway medicine create an unsafe environment for patients. In a recent editorial for the Toronto Star, Perth, Ontario, emergency room physician Alan Drummond explained the scope of the issue and why it affects patient outcomes.

“Most hospitals far exceed the recognized safe occupancy rate of 85 per cent and in Ontario routinely exceed 100 per cent bed occupancy rates,” he wrote.

The result is that emergency departments are “crowded and dangerous.”

“An Ontario study of 22 million patient visits to Ontario emergency departments over a five-year period, found that the risk of death and hospital readmission increased incrementally with the degree of crowding at the time the patient arrived in the emergency department,” Drummond wrote. “The authors estimated that if the average length of stay in the emergency department was an hour less, about 150 fewer Ontarians would die each year.”

The risk factors associated with hospital overcrowding and hallway medicine mirror many of issues that concern medical malpractice lawyers on a daily basis: delayed treatment, outbreak of infection, increasing risk of medical errors, delayed and missed diagnoses, and more.

The Premier’s “Council on Improving Healthcare and Ending Hallway Medicine” has released two reports so far. The first, which we discuss here, outlined the challenges facing Ontario’s medical system, including “difficulty navigating the health care system,” “capacity pressures,” and lack of “effective coordination at the system level.” It did not deliver recommendations.

The second, released in July, provided “advice on how to build a modern, sustainable and integrated health care system and solve the problem of hallway medicine,” per a provincial release.

“Health care should be organized around each patient’s individual needs,” said Special Advisor and Chair of the Council, Dr. Rueben Devlin, in the same release. “Health providers must work collaboratively, and services should be more readily available and accessible within our communities. These are the changes that matter to Ontarians and this is what the health care system of the future should look like.”

The Ontario Government’s commitment to solving hallway medicine is admirable, but, as Dr. Drummond details in his article, little progress has been made over the first year of its tenure.

“Recently I had a discussion with a seasoned emergency physician at a university hospital in Eastern Ontario who told me the situation was as worse as it had ever been in a long and distinguished career spanning four decades,” Drummond wrote. “Eight patients waiting to be seen in the waiting room, 20 ambulances waiting on the ramp to offload and all the monitored beds occupied, with fully eight patients with cardiac conditions unable to be monitored to a degree acceptable in a western hospital.”

If you or a member of your family has experienced an injury in a medical setting, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of medical malpractice lawyers will assess your claim and make recommendations about how to proceed with legal action.

Greg Neinstein