Faced with another study finding B.C. hospital wait times among the longest in the country, Health Minister Adrian Dix has revealed that significant changes to the province’s medical system are in the works.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information studied emergency department wait times across Canada and found that B.C. patients waited about 10 hours to see a doctor—two hours longer than the national average. Patients in the province also stayed in hospital longer, with seniors facing the longest waits.

Dix says emergency departments often ends up taking patients who don’t need to be there, but have no choice because walk-in clinics and doctors’ offices don’t have the capacity. Home care and other supports for seniors leaving hospital are also lacking, he added.

“We're working with divisions of family practice everywhere in the province and working on implementing our commitments to urgent care centres and community health centres to ensure that everyone in the system is working to the full extent of their skills," Dix said.

He envisions “team-based care” with medical centres where doctors would work in tandem with nurse practitioners, nurses and other healthcare professionals such as pharmacists so that patients can see whoever is best suited to their needs, rather than take up physician time for less complex concerns.

"[Long ER waits are] a significant problem the province faced under the previous government—a complex problem,” Dix said. “We have to address it in emergency rooms, in primary care and in the community in order to ensure the appropriate patient flow and it's obviously a priority for the government."

While Manitoba and Saskatchewan fared worse in length of time spent in the ER, British Columbians’ waits to get emergency treatment worsened significantly from the 2015-16 fiscal year.

"For B.C., it seems like there is quite a bit of an increase this year,” said Juliana Wu, CIHI’s manager for Clinical Administration Databases. “It's about a 25 per cent increase in the wait times for admitted patients. So that seems to be a pretty interesting finding for just a one-year difference.”

In addition to longer wait times than the national average, the report released by CIHI Thursday found seniors faced the longest waits, while all patients who registered between 8 and 10 p.m. faced exceptionally long waits.

“I think there are some examples in Canada, but more so in other countries, where they have been much more thoughtful about medical coverage, access to imaging, access to administrative oversight for flow and have taken out some of these wrinkles and tried to improve care and flow around the clock,” says Dr. Howard Ovens, Ontario’s provincial lead for emergency medicine in the report.

Dix says the B.C. government is looking at a broad range of improvements, promising that residents are “going to see a difference soon.”

While he wouldn’t provide a firm timeline, Dix appealed for some patience.

“B.C. has done worse than the national average for the last several years with respect to emergency rooms, so it's going to take some period of time to address that,” he said.