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California Has the 7th Longest ER Wait Times in the U.S.

And this study was done before the current COVID19 crisis; if you’re off to the emergency room, be prepared for longer waits than usual.

Emergency department visits have been increasing steadily for more than 20 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 144.9 million emergency department (also commonly referred to as emergency room) visits in 2017, roughly a 50 percent increase from 1995. But it’s not just population growth that’s accounting for the spike. The rate of emergency room visits has grown too, reaching 445 visits per thousand residents in 2017 compared to 360 in 1995.

Despite the label, most emergency department visits are for non-emergency care. Triage statistics from the CDC reveal that less than 1 percent of emergency room visits require immediate attention and only 9.9 percent are categorized as emergent. While approximately a third of emergency department visits are deemed urgent, nearly another third fall into less-than-urgent categories.

With the steady rise in emergency department visits, many patients are experiencing longer wait times as well. In general, emergency rooms do reasonably well when it comes to getting people seen initially. Nationwide, over 40 percent of patients are seen by a physician, nurse, or physician assistant within 15 minutes of checking in. However, 14 percent of visits have an initial wait time exceeding one hour and approximately 2 percent of patients leave the hospital without being seen at all.

While initial screening times in the emergency department can be relatively quick, the total time spent waiting for treatment, discharge, or to be admitted to the hospital for further treatment is significantly longer. Nationwide, patients who are ultimately admitted to the hospital spend a median of 103 minutes waiting in the emergency department for an inpatient room after the ER doctor decides to admit them. Similarly, people who are not ultimately admitted as inpatients spend a median of 141 minutes in the emergency department before leaving from the visit.

To find which states have the longest emergency department wait times, researchers at 360 Quote analyzed data from the CDC and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The researchers ranked the 15 states with the longest median wait times for patients that are ultimately admitted to the hospital as inpatients. The researchers also included data on discharged patients and patients who decide to leave before getting seen. The longest wait times are clustered in the Northeast, while the Midwest has shorter wait times.

The analysis found that the median ER wait time in California is 150 minutes, the 7th longest among all states. Here is a summary of the data for California:

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 150 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 160 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 2%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 341

For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 103 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 141 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 2%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 445

For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results for all states, you can find the original report on 360 Quote’s website: https://www.autoinsurance.org/longest-emergency-room-waits/