Using the long-form census to reduce emergency room crowding helps you!

Ted Hsu
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emergencyUnderstanding the link between postal codes and emergency room visits – a need for the long form census

Given universal access to healthcare, we would expect the frequency of use of emergency room services to be relatively uniform. However, this is not the case, says a peer-reviewed study conducted in 2013 by  the Emergency Medicine and Geography Department at Queen’s University, and the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health Unit. They identified a significant correlation between the frequency of use of the Emergency Department and the postal code of the patient. The postal code helped the researchers look up the probable socioeconomic status for each patient based neighbourhood data from the long-form census.  Thus, they were able to understand how people of low socioeconomic status use emergency services disproportionately more than the people of high socioeconomic status. Click here to this paper by Dr. April Tozer and colleagues (2013).

The study by Tozer and colleagues will help direct healthcare services to those in need, develop proactive health and safety programs to reduce expensive emergency room visits, and reduce emergency room overcrowding for everybody. However, our understanding of these relationships would not have been possible without the data from the long form census. The loss of the long form census and its replacement with the ineffective voluntary National Household Survey, means that many of the regions identified as needing additional healthcare funds would have been overlooked, as response rates to the voluntary survey were particularly low in households of low socioeconomic status. Not only is such a comprehensive study no longer possible, but the success or failure of any initiatives to reduce overcrowding cannot be assessed against this investigation, since we no longer have reliable census data.

The data void that was created by the loss of the long form census is impacting the ability to do good research and put effective programs in place. This research is just one example of many studies that use the data from the long form census to improve government efficiency and help improve the health and saftey of Canadians.