Emergency department (ED) activity is measured by the number of presentations to the ED.
An ED presentation starts following the arrival of the patient to the ED and is the earliest time that a patient is registered or triaged by clinical staff.
This section presents information on the number of presentations to public hospital EDs reported between 2016–17 and 2020–21. ED presentations are also presented by:
Hospital Peer group
ED activity in 2019–20 and 2020–21 was influenced by COVID-19 restrictions and the changes affecting health care provision commencing in February 2020.
A range of restrictions on travel, business, social interaction and border control were introduced to prevent and reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID‑19). In this period, there have also been a number of other changes that may have impacted on the provision of healthcare services, including emergency department care.
During 2020–21, some jurisdictions operated COVID-19 fever clinics within emergency departments. Comparatively large increases in ED activity observed between 2019–20 and 2020–21 in some jurisdictions may be driven, in part, by this additional activity.
Between 2018–19 and 2019–20:
Between 2019–20 and 2020–21:
Last updated 18/11/2020 v4.0
During the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia, a range of restrictions on travel, business, social interaction and border control were introduced across most jurisdictions from February 2020 to prevent and reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID‑19).
In the period July 2020 to the end of June 2021, many restrictions have continued to apply, though these have been applied differently across jurisdictions and at different times.
A number of changes to provision of healthcare services, may have impacted on ED activity including:
This section presents analyses on presentations to emergency departments (EDs) in Australia during this period to explore the impact of these changes.
The data presented here show the impact the outbreak and measures to stop the spread, identify and treat COVID-19 had on emergency department activity in Australia in the 2019–20 and 2020–21 reporting years.
The ED presentations with a principal diagnosis related to COVID-19 reported here do not reflect the number of diagnosed COVID‑19 cases.
The number of ED presentations with symptoms related to COVID‑19 are likely influenced by external factors, such as public health messages, measures implemented by state and territory and federal governments and the opening of COVID‑19 testing centres, and fever clinics operated through some EDs in local areas.
A fever clinic is a specialist clinic managed by hospital and health services to assess people who may be infected with COVID-19. These clinics help keep people who may be contagious away from other areas of hospitals and health centres, and helping to reduce the potential spread of the virus and keeping emergency departments available for emergencies. In 2020–21, the activity of fever clinics in some jurisdictions was reported as emergency department activity.
Projected data estimates for 2019–20 activity use 6 years of historical data on emergency department presentations to highlight what the trend may have looked like without the spread of COVID‑19 in the community.
To accurately capture data about the presentation of suspected COVID-19 presentations, the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA) introduced ICD-10-AM classifications to the the states and territories introduced code classifications to the Emergency Department Principal diagnosis short list for the purpose if identifying presentations where COVID-19 infection was either suspected, or ruled-out.
The use of these codes was not necessarily applied in a consistent manner across health facilities, and the volume presentations to ED for COVID-19 are likely to have been influenced by the nature of testing arrangements in each location. This means the data must be interpreted with caution.
More information can be found on the IHPA website.
The data visualisations below allow users to explore the changes in ED activity over the 2018–19, 2019–20 and 2020–21 reporting periods, including:
In some visualisations, data are also presented for 2018–19 for comparative purposes.
Impact of COVID-19 on emergency department activity
All data in these visualisations are available for download in the Data & downloads section of the MyHospitals website.
Presentations 2018–19 to 2019–20
These line graphs show the average daily presentations (by week) to emergency departments between 2018–19 and 2019–20. Data is presented by measure (average daily, cumulative and projected vs actual) and by triage category. National, state and territory data is available. In the week starting 22nd June 2019–20, there were 21, 365 average daily presentations to emergency departments.
Principal diagnoses 2018–19 to 2019–20
These line graphs show the daily presentations (by week) to emergency departments between 2018–19 and 2019–20. Data is presented by measure (average daily, cumulative and projected vs and proportion of weekly presentations) and by body system group. National, state and territory data is available. In the week starting 22nd June 2019–20, there were 614.4 average daily presentations to emergency departments with a diagnosis of COVID-19.
Nationally, between 2014–15 and 2018–19 the number of presentations to public hospital EDs increased by 3.2% on average each year.
With the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in 2019–20, the number of ED presentations decreased by 1.4% compared to 2018–19.
Between 2019–20 and 2020–21, however, ED presentations increased 6.9% compared to 2019–20.
From March to June 2020:
Projected estimates of ED activity for 2019–20 suggest that, without the impact of COVID-19, the average daily number of ED presentations would have remained steady at around 23,000 presentations per day on average.
From July 2020:
See Notes for information on how data on the projected presentations were calculated.
When a patient presents to the ED, an experienced registered nurse or medical practitioner allocates them a triage category. This indicates the urgency of the patient’s need for medical and nursing care.
This suggests that the volume of ED presentations with chronic or minor symptoms and for whom treatment could be delayed up to 2 hours increased during the initial COVID‑19 outbreak.
This pattern continued in 2020–21, where non-urgent presentations continued to show the greatest variation. Over this period, non-urgent presentations accounted for between 8% and 15% of presentations.
The outbreak of COVID‑19 infections and associated national and jurisdiction-based measures influenced the types of presentation to emergency departments in Australia from February 2020.
Over the period from February 2020 to June 2021:
The average daily number of presentations with a diagnosis related to Injury decreased from 5,800 in the week beginning 24 February 2020 to 3,400 in the week beginning 30 March 2020. In 2020–21, the number of Injury related presentations followed a similar pattern to 2018–19 with average daily presentations varying between 4,900 to 6,200 across the year.
The decrease in the number of Injury related presentations during the early months of 2020 is likely influenced by the increased restrictions on public and social gatherings and activities, including sporting events and travel restrictions, and availability of other health facilities. These restrictions were subsequently eased in many jurisdictions after July 2020.
The Emergency department ICD-10-AM (eleventh edition) Principal diagnosis short list was used to group Principal diagnosis into Disease/body system group. For more information, see METeOR.
Presentations were grouped into Emergency department ICD-10-AM (10th edition) Principal Diagnosis Short list Disease/body system group based on the principal diagnosis at the 3-character level.
The visualisation showing body system groups in includes only presentations assigned a principal diagnosis.
Exceptions to the use of IHPA body system group are:
Projected emergency department presentations were calculated using the average daily emergency department presentations for each month over a six-year period from 2013–14 to 2018–19.
The average change per year was then applied onto the 2018–19 data to create a projection for average daily emergency presentations for each month in
To explore the influence of the COVID‑19 on other health data, further releases are available on the AIHW website under COVID‑19 Resources and The impact of COVID-19 on Australia's health system.
Information on the total confirmed cases and active cases can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
Data are also available on emergency department presentations by hospital or LHN in My local area.
Appendixes and caveat information for this data is available to download in the Info and downloads section.
Definitions of the terms used in this section are available in the Glossary.
An emergency department (ED) presentation occurs following the arrival of the patient at the ED, and commences at the point of being registered clinically or triaged.
Explore the number of presentations to Australia’s public hospital EDs between 2016–17 and 2020–21 in the data visualisation below.
Information is presented by:
The data can also be explored by:
Emergency department presentations
This line graph shows the number of presentations to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments between 2016–17 and 2020–21. Data is presented by measure (number of presentations and presentations per 1,000 population). National, state and territory data is available. In 2020–21, there were 8,808,357 presentation to emergency departments.
This line graph shows the number of presentations to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments between 2016–17 and 2020–21. Data is presented by peer group. National, state and territory data is available. In 2020–21, the number of presentations ranged by peer group; from 3,338,476 presentations to Public acute group A hospitals to 215, 339 presentations to other hospitals.
Age and sex
These column graphs show the number of presentations per 1,000 population to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments in 2020–21. Data is presented by age group and sex. National, state and territory data is available. In 2020–21, there were 349.0 presentations for females and 345.3 for males, per 1,000 population.
This column graph shows show the number of presentations per 1,000 population to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments in 2020–21. Data is presented by age group and Indigenous status. National, state and territory data is available. In 2020–21, Indigenous Australian’s had more presentations 1,000 population, compared with Other Australians for all age groups.
Hospitals and LHNs
This table shows the number of presentations to Australia’s public hospital emergency departments in 2020–21, by triage category and peer group. Hospital, Local Hospital Network (LHN), national, and state and territory data is available.
What other information is available?
Appendix information is available to download in the Info and downloads section.
Reports released prior to 2017–18 can be accessed in the Reports section.
Further information about the concepts on this page can be found in the Glossary.
Patients present to the emergency department (ED) for various reasons. This section presents information on care provided in EDs by:
In the data visualisation below you can explore ED presentations by ICD-10-AM principal diagnosis chapter, age group and sex.
Care provided in emergency departments
This figure explores ED presentations in 2020–21. Data is presented by age group, sex, and ICD-10-AM principal diagnosis chapter. National data is available. In 2020–21, the ICD-10-AM principal diagnosis chapter Injury, poisoning and other consequences of external causes accounted for 24% of all diagnoses.
When a patient presents to the ED, a registered nurse or medical practitioner allocates them a triage category. This indicates the urgency of the patient’s need for medical and nursing care.
In 2020–21 there were 8.8 million ED presentations, and of these:
The mode of arrival relates to how a patient arrives at the ED, whether by ambulance, or another form of transport.
The episode end status describes the status of the patient at the conclusion of the non-admitted patient episode in the emergency department, including whether the patient was subsequently admitted to the hospital.
In the data visualisation, you can explore ED visits by type of presentation.
Appendix information is available to download in the Info and downloads section
Previous emergency department care reports can be accessed in the Reports section.
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