What you might not know about hospital emergency room (ER) visits.

If you’ve never been to a hospital in Canada, knowing what to expect from a hospital visit can be difficult. There are some things to keep in mind before you go.

Depending on your situation, and if you have a non-life-threatening medical emergency, you have other options instead of going to a hospital emergency room (ER).

You can go to an Urgent Care Centre instead If you or your loved one has an infection, the flu, an ear ache, a minor burn or a broken bone. Urgent Care Centres tend to have shorter wait times.   

Some alternative options to the ER are can be found through Health Care Options. This online tool to help you find health services like hospitals, walk-in clinics, physiotherapy and mental health centres near you.

Getting an Ambulance

If you’ve had an accident or feel you or someone else is in a life-threatening situation, dial 9-1-1 and an ambulance will be dispatched to take you to the hospital.

Calling an ambulance won’t necessarily get you faster attention once you are at the hospital.

Ambulance Fees

You will have to pay a $45 fee for using an ambulance after your visit. The hospital will send you an invoice to your home usually about a month after your visit.  The cost for using an ambulance service in Ontario is $240 but the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) will cover the majority of that cost.

In some cases, the hospital may determine that you were not in a life-threatening situation and may decide to charge you the full fee.

Learn more about ambulance fees at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website.

Arriving at the ER

At the ER, you will see a clerk who will register you by asking you to provide your:

  • Name and address in Ontario.
  • Provincial Health Card or private insurance plan number if you do not have OHIP.
  • Family doctor’s name and emergency contact number.

Once you are registered, a triage nurse will determine which area of care will see you next. This process can take some time, so be prepared to wait, depending on the urgency of your emergency.

Tips for the ER

The wait times in the ER can be long. It’s a good idea to have an advocate with you (like a spouse, a friend or relative, or someone you trust) who can speak on your behalf if you are too ill to represent yourself.

Tips for when you're there:

  • Bring a list of all medications you've been taking at home.
  • While you wait, write down or record questions on your phone for the doctors, nurses, etc., as you think of them. Write down the answers to these concerns once you speak to the caregivers.
  • Consider keeping a journal if your healthcare experience is extensive (for example, you go in for an emergency but end up admitted for days)
  • Write down the names of the doctors and caregivers you see.
  • Ask what tests and procedures are being done and why.
  • Before you sign any consent forms for a procedure, make sure you read and understand what you are giving consent for.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions like, “Why do I need to have this procedure?”

Interpreter Services

Many hospitals offer on-site, in-person interpreter services for many languages, including ASL (sign language). If you or a family member would feel more comfortable speaking in another language, you can request an interpreter.

In emergency or short-notice situations, when an in-person interpreter may not immediately be available for the language you request, the hospital may need to use telephone and/or video remote interpretation. 

Second Opinions

If you are not satisfied with the medical diagnosis you get from one doctor, you are entitled to request a second opinion. In Ontario, there is no limit on the number of medical opinions you can get for an illness, surgery,  or treatment diagnosis. 

To get a second opinion, you must first get a referral from your family physician or the specialist you have seen last.

Where can I get tests done faster?

Getting a diagnostic imaging test - a Computerized Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan - when you are not in an emergency room situation can sometimes take months to get an appointment.

In some cases, wait times might be shorter in other parts of the province. If you're willing to travel a little bit, your doctor can recommend a location outside of where you live to get a test done sooner.

Health Quality Ontario has an online tool for checking wait times. See the Wait Times for Diagnostic Imaging Tool to find other hospitals across Ontario and their wait times.

For More Information

  • From Patients Who Know: A Hospital Handbook [PDF] – This guide is full of tips and tools to navigate the hospital system based on real Canadian patients. From the University Health Network (UHN).
  • What to Expect at the ED - Visiting the emergency department (ED) when your child is sick or injured can be overwhelming. These resources can help you prepare for your next visit to the ED with your child. In English and Ukrainian. From ECHO research program. 

Last updated: April 30, 2024 4006320