Decrease in emergency medical services utilization during early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in British Columbia

Brian Grunau, Jennie Helmer, Sung Lee, Joe Acker, Jon Deakin, Richard Armour, John Tallon, Sandra Jenneson, Jim Christenson, Frank X. Scheuermeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


ObjectiveTo date in the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a decrease in patients accessing emergency health services, (EHS) but research has been conducted in areas with a very high incidence of COVID-19. In an area with a low COVID-19 incidence, we estimate changes in EHS use.MethodsWe compared EHS encounters in British Columbia from March 15 (the date of school and business closures) to May 15, 2020, when compared to the same period in 2019. We categorized EHS encounters into 18 presenting complaints and prespecified critical care complaints including major trauma, cardiac arrest, stroke, and ST-elevation myocardial infarction. We analyzed by descriptive methods.ResultsComparing 2019 to 2020, total EHS encounters decreased from 83,925 (incidence rate 834 per 100,000 person-months) to 71,611 (incidence rate 701 per 100,000 person-months) for a decrease of 133 per 100,000 person-months (95% CI 126–141). The top 18 codes had a significant decrease in every category except respiratory and anxiety. Encounters for critically ill patients decreased significantly overall from 3019 to 2753 (incidence rate difference 3.1 per 100,000 person-months, 95% CI 1.6–4.5), including stroke, trauma, and STEMI, but the incidence of OHCA appeared stable.ConclusionIn a single province with a low incidence of COVID-19, there was a 15% reduction in overall EHS use and a 9% reduction in critical illness. EHS planners will need to match patient need with available resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-241
Number of pages5
JournalCJEM: Canadian journal of emergency medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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