08/01/2012 12:14 EDT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Apps help patients avoid hours of waiting in ERs and walk-in clinics

TORONTO - Patients across Canada are increasingly turning to websites and apps to get a better sense of the wait times they face at walk-in clinics and hospitals.

Appletree Medical Group Inc., has been offering wait time information for dozens of clinics in the Greater Toronto Area and around Ottawa for about 10 years, said Dr. Tim Bell, the company's medical director.

Web and mobile updates are provided every 15 minutes, allowing patients to scan a list of nearby clinics and head to the one that is the least busy.

Providing data about the most-packed waiting rooms helps to more efficiently spread traffic across all the company's clinics, Bell said.

"Seven days a week across the Ottawa area a patient can see a physician within an hour on average and now we're doing the same thing in Toronto," he said.

"We have about 450,000 patients that we take care of regularly between the GTA and Ottawa, so the patients can decide if they want to see their family doctor, who may have a two-hour wait, or they could go up the street and see a colleague of theirs.

"It certainly gives them options."

Some patients have said they also appreciate choosing between a male or female doctor, Bell added.

Alberta Health Services has been running a similar service for hospital emergency rooms in Calgary for about a year, and in recent weeks went online with wait times for Edmonton ERs.

Around 17,000 Apple users and 1,000 Android users have now downloaded a mobile app to get ER updates, while a website that refreshes every few minutes is averaging about 30,000 visits monthly.

Alberta Health Services is happy with how well the automated system is providing estimates for patients, although it's not something that can ever be completely perfected, said spokesman Dave Brewin.

"We're seeing very good accuracy but you have to take into consideration that there's very ill people coming into the emergency departments and there's not extremely ill people coming in," he said, adding that patients without a serious medical condition should know they might face longer wait times than what they see online.

"If you're highly acute you're obviously going to wait a heck of a lot less than what you see online there. And if you've got a much less acute issue, you're going to wait longer than what you see online.

"And I think that's fairly expected when people are looking at these things, they understand."

In Quebec, a company called Bonjour-santé takes a different approach and is betting that patients are willing to pay to skip the walk-in clinic lines. For $12 plus tax, users can input their postal code and then choose a nearby location and time for a same-day appointment with a doctor.


On the web:

Alberta Health Services wait times -

Appletree Medical Group Toronto wait times -

Appletree Medical Group Ottawa wait times -

Bonjour-santé -