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Aust Health Rev. 1998;21(3):133-49.

Is there equity in emergency medical care? Waiting times and walk-outs in South Western Sydney hospital emergency departments.

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Epidemiology Unit, South Western Sydney Area Health Service.


This study explores the association between selected socioeconomic characteristics of emergency patients with waiting times in emergency departments and walk-outs (those who did not wait for treatment) in South Western Sydney Area Health Service hospital emergency departments. Bivariate and multivariate analyses indicated that waiting times to see a doctor and walk-out rates varied by age, sex, country of birth, insurance status, socioeconomic status, severity of patient illness and day of arrival. Patients who were female, from a non-English-speaking background, self-referred, uninsured and those from lower socioeconomic status showed significantly longer waiting times than others. Patients who left emergency departments without treatment showed higher waiting times from arrival to triage than other groups. This applied across socioeconomic categories. These findings indicate that prolonged waiting times for triage, which occur at the busiest periods, may be one of the main indicators for patients leaving emergency departments without treatment. The study also demonstrates variability in waiting times, which could possibly be partly addressed by more standardised triage policies, but may be influenced by other non-clinical factors, which require further investigation.

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